A train falling victim to emergency brakes, with metal grinding on metal until the entire locomotive screeches to a halt...that was my life in the past month. Actually, the brakes were beginning to feel compression many months ago, but the past month dealt in the whiplash stop. Life seemed to keep plowing by outside the windows, but I found myself paused...just sitting on the tracks...thinking, rethinking...finding myself thinking even farther outside the proverbial box.
See...it's this whole following Jesus thing that I'm struggling with. I grew up in church. I know Scriptures from heart, know where all the books of the Bible are located, give my tithe, do missions work, give to the needy, make meals for the sick, send cards to the discouraged, read dozens of Christian books.
But, I bumped into the reality that when Jesus comes back, there will be some people who will say, "Remember all the wonderful things I did for you? I even cast out demons." And He will tell them to depart, because He never knew them.
He didn't know them, because they did not follow Him.
The Pharisees were just like the list of things I listed above. They had always kept the law and even kept many man-made laws not in God's law. They prayed, fasted, read Scriptures, etc. If they were in our modern church setting, they would be the ones we would look to and say, "Now, THAT person serves God." But the truth was that they were whitewashed tombs, looking good on the outside and yet corrupted on the inside. They were not following Jesus.
And so my life came grinding to an absolute stop as this new year began, and the question hung in the air: Am I really a follower of Jesus?
And actually, what in the world does it actually look like to follow Jesus?
I can get some churchy answers if I were to ask people, but I'm tired of churchy answers. I want to know what it looks like to seriously follow Jesus. I want to SEE it in action.
But the truth is that I'm hard-pressed to find any modern examples. There are good churches, great churches. There are amazing speakers and extremely moving sermons. There are sweet Christians I know and love. But, looking for a modern-day Jesus (even in my own mirror) leaves me empty-handed.
Every morning, we read a chapter in a missionary biography. And this month, we are reading about Mother Teresa. And, though I am not Catholic, I do get a very clear picture of Jesus in reading about Mother Teresa's life. She poured her entire life into serving the poorest of the poor. She cleaned maggots out of festering wounds and smelled the pungent odor of death on nearly every person in her house for the dying and destitute. She took in every abandoned child that was brought to her. She and her helpers rose long before dawn to pray and then invested their day neck-deep in the filth and labor of serving those that nobody else wanted to touch or see or smell. She did it not for a paycheck but for simply "serving Jesus in disguise." She treated every person as if they were Jesus. To her, worshipping her Savior translated into spending 3 hours cleaning human filth off of one dying man, cleaning out his maggot-infested gangrene and loving him in his final few hours of life on earth.
How incredibly different that is from the definition of following Jesus that is prevalent today! Sermons in beautiful churches, followed by a nice lunch and some football. Themed Bible studies with well-meaning people gathered in a circle learning more and then meeting up again the next week to learn even more. Marriage retreats, conferences, new books, potlucks, concerts. None of those things are bad, but truthfully, they are the main course in church life. Occasional sides include collecting food for the community food pantry in the summer, giving warm socks to the homeless shelter in the winter and sending a check to help orphans in Haiti.
These are all good things, but really, let's be brutally honest here...it looks NOTHING at all like the lifestyle Jesus lived...the day-in-day-out living among the poor and needy, pouring Himself out every moment of every day.
And the whole thing has me miserably restless. How can I call myself a follower of Jesus when in reality I'm not following at all? Jesus said, "Follow Me," and then His disciples literally followed Him. They walked with Him and saw Him heal the sick and touch the leper and hold the children and feed the hungry and wash the feet. No doubt, as they walked with Him, they also touched the sick and comforted the hurting in their path. They followed Him...literally.
But we are so far removed from the dying, the needy, the hurting masses. We segregate ourselves so seamlessly that we can live in comfort, quietly removed from the messy. We say we are "serving right where we are," and we do reach out to take a meal to a new mom or a sick friend here and there. And we may even travel to the "bad part of town" to serve for 3 hours in a soup kitchen and then high tail it out of there so that we can check it off our ministry to-do list.
But, honestly, that is a far cry from the lifestyle of Jesus, the one we claim to follow.
How is this so? How can we do this and not even feel the least bit bothered by the obvious difference between Jesus's lifestyle and ours? By simple definition, are we truly His followers?
THIS is what has me stopped in my tracks. THIS is what my spirit and heart have been wrestling endlessly with. THIS is what has me awake at night...wondering why on earth the church does not look anything like the Jesus we claim to follow...wondering if and when I can ever sincerely say I'm following Jesus in His steps.