Today’s Blog is part 6 of a 6-part Blog Series called “Reopening Christianity: 5 Questions Every Pastor Must Answer.” This series is intended to challenge pastors by asking five challenging questions that will help spur their churches to become greater collective expressions of Jesus Christ. Miss prior blogs or want to read the next ones in this series? Find them here. Questions 1-5 go live January 11-15, 2021.
Here’s what I’m convinced is the perennial problem with American Christianity: Christians in America are content with God being their Savior, but uncomfortable with Him being their Lord.
In the King James Version, which is the most widely used translation of the Bible in America, the word Savior appears 37 times. The word Lord appears more than 7000 times. I wonder if God isn’t trying to tell us something with those numbers.
Many American Christians have settled for a relationship with Jesus where He is their Savior but not truly their Lord. We like the benefits, especially eternally, that Jesus as Savior brings, but would prefer to continue to pursue comfort in the things of this world. Until we live first and foremost for Jesus and Jesus alone, we will continue to be a poor, confusing representation of Jesus in this world.
At the root of it all is that in this world there are things that compete for the place where God is meant to reside, your heart. The deeper we look into the Bible, we may balk at and deem ourselves superior to the Israelite people who crafted idols out of materials, but in reality, we do the very same things. We craft idols and pursue other than Jesus and wonder why we aren’t making the impact that we ought to be making. Some of us as pastors can even make the church we serve an idol in our lives.
So, pastor, who or what are you most in love with? Who, or what, resides in the throne room of your heart? Anytime anyone or anything replaces Jesus as our ultimate pursuit in this world, we will always woefully fall short.
Americans have been sold a lie called the “American Dream.” We believe that when we work hard, pull our bootstraps up, and climb to the top that we will then be happy. I see nothing wrong with hard work and high aspirations, and the freedom to pursue our goals is something we should celebrate. But underlying this dream is an incredibly dangerous assumption. David Platt, in his book Radical, says: “The dangerous assumption we unknowingly accept in the American Dream is that our greatest asset is our own ability.”[i]
Our country has experienced much success over the past decades, and so it’s easy to look to ourselves and trust in our own ability. At the end of the American Dream is that we would “be recognized by others for what we really are.” The goal of the American Dream is to make much of ourselves.
This couldn’t be further from the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel has different priorities. The Gospel beckons us to die to ourselves and to believe in God and to trust in His power. In the Gospel, God confronts us with our utter inability to accomplish anything of value apart from Him. We cannot even come to faith; we are dry, dead bones, without God Himself breathing new life into us. The goal of the Gospel is to make much of God, not to make much of ourselves.
In direct contradiction to the American dream, God actually delights in exalting our inability. All of us as pastors can relate to this. We simply don’t have the time, the energy, the skillset, and the power to do all that He has entrusted to us to do. He puts us in situations that are way too big for ourselves, puts us in situations we are unqualified and unworthy to hold, situations where we come face to face with our need for Him, and He shows up time and time again. He does this not for us to get the glory, but so that He would receive all the glory.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran theologian struggling to follow Christ in the midst of Nazi rule, penned one of the great Christian books of all time, The Cost of Discipleship. The theme of this book is summarized in one sentence: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”[ii]
When we follow Jesus as Lord, we give up the right to call our own shots. He calls them for us. It’s not an easy lifestyle that Jesus offers to us. It comes with cost and with sacrifice. But, friends, it is worth it. Die to yourself and switch away from selfie view and place your gaze on someone most worthy. His name is Jesus Christ.
And the opportunity is right here, right now. In the midst of a crazy world-turned-upside-down global pandemic year, the time is now. How will you respond? I hope you respond like Elisha.
Read the story from 1 Kings, chapter 19:
19 So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. 20 Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.”
“Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?”
Elisha was a man working his fields by driving the last pair of oxen. By all accounts, he was a pretty successful guy. The fact that he had 12 pair of oxen and that he was driving the last pair was an indication that he had quite a bit of worldly wealth and position. But all of a sudden, out of nowhere, Elijah, the most powerful, faith-filled prophet of his day, came by and threw his cloak around Elisha.
Placing a prophetic cloak around someone was like a king giving his scepter to his son. It was a divine calling. Elijah was offering Elisha a job. It wasn’t as if Elisha was looking for a new job. The Bible doesn’t tell us that he had done anything of note to be put in this position. But all of a sudden, he had a choice to make. He could stay with the oxen and keep plowing the farm, or he could follow the man that in the chapter before was calling down fire from heaven and had just won a battle single-handedly against 850 false prophets.
Invitations like this don’t come by too often.
Elisha responded that he first wanted to say good-bye to his parents. Following Jesus as your Lord often times can lead to painful separation from the things of the world and sometimes even from our own flesh and blood, but there is joy in recompense that outweighs the cost. Elisha would miss his family, and they would miss him.
21 So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.
While animal sacrifice was a common thing in his day, burning the plows to cook the meat was anything but normal. Why would he do this?
I can understand the value in feeding everyone. But to take the instruments of your livelihood and use them for fire so you can grill the oxen is irresponsible, shortsighted, and over the top. If God called you to quit your business, you wouldn’t burn your building to the ground.
God didn’t put this story in the Bible to teach us how to best steward our farming equipment.
It’s a picture of total devotion.
Elisha was proclaiming through his actions in that moment that nothing from his past, not even the good things, will hinder him from truly following after God in the future. He had nowhere back to run to if things didn’t work out. He was fully devoted.
I know that during my ministry there have been times where I have pursued Jesus with one foot in, but also keeping one hand on the door handle just in case. How about you?
Elisha knew this invitation was too good to pass up. He knew there would be danger that would come his way. He knew it would require sacrifice. But he knew it was worth it.
Living a life of purpose and meaning has costs, but it’s always worth it. Elisha would have to pay those costs. In fact, there’s biblical record of years of following after Elijah where he didn’t do anything of note. But at the proper time, after following faithfully, amazingly Elisha performed twice as many miracles as Elijah.
Many people never get to truly experience the joy of following Jesus because they don’t leave good enough behind. Jesus is better than you, and He’s better than anything of this world.
And much like Elijah called Elisha, Jesus had a habit of going around with an invitation, “Come, follow me.” He did it with Peter, James, and John on the shore. He did it with a tax collector named Matthew.
And He’s doing it for you today. Even though we have failed and misrepresented Him, the invitation is still there today.
Following Jesus is not a burden but the single greatest opportunity of our lifetimes.
The great theologian Dallas Willard said, “The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples—students, apprentices, practitioners—of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from Him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.[iii]
As you pastor your church are you inviting people into a life of following after Jesus?
What I have noticed in the church of the past is that many times pastors would preach and give some sort of invitation to believe in Jesus. But when you look at the life of Jesus, the invitation Jesus gave far more often than “Believe in me” was instead “Follow me.” As pastors, we have the opportunity leading our church in the future to call people to a greater call than believing in Jesus, and that is to follow after Him.
It’s important for the church of the future that we not only call people to follow Jesus as their Lord, but to give them really practical targets to hit in their pursuit to follow Jesus.
If we can, just for a moment, give people a true, real glimpse of Jesus, how the world might change! Let’s help our people “burn the plows” of this world and follow Jesus whole-heartedly in the future.
Pastor, are you helping others truly follow Jesus as their Lord?
For more on this, here’s a video I did for a digital conference helping pastors understand how to go beyond intention and leading with precision in the future.
While these blogs are written specifically for pastors and church leaders, we have an ebook Reopening Christianity and small group resources available for individuals at your church right here. Many small groups and churches have found this to be a powerful small group or church-wide study. To inquire about using this as a sermon series and for bulk rates on the ebook, email email@example.com.
[i] Platt, David. Radical. Multnomah, 2012, p. 46.
[ii] Ibid, p. 14.
[iii] “Dallas Willard Quotes.” https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/367611-the-greatest-issue-facing-the-world-today-with-all-its#:~:text=%E2%80%9CThe%20greatest%20issue%20facing%20the%20world%20today%2C%20with%20all%20its,Kingdom%20of%20the%20Heavens%20into. Web. 6 November 2020.