What does it mean to follow Jesus?
The word most often used in the Bible for a ‘follower’ of Christ is ‘disciple’. The term suggests personal allegiance to a teacher. A true follower of Christ is someone who is committed to His leadership in their lives, learning from Him and actively seeking to reflect His character and fulfil His purposes in their own lives. By definition it involves an expectation that once a commitment to Christ has been made the life of the follower will change for they will no longer be in charge of themselves. At its heart it has little to do with religion but everything to do with relationship.
Therefore a follower must be committed to developing their relationship with Christ – this involves learning, listening, talking, walking and most of all time. If a follower wants to learn about Christ they must become familiar with the Bible for that’s where we learn most about Him. If they want to discover His purposes for their lives they must become regular in prayer for talking to God and listening to God (most often as He speaks through His Word) are critical components of a healthy relationship with Him.
Ultimately it will not be enough to simply believe the right things about Jesus Christ or even to know how a follower of Christ should live – it will only be real when this faith and knowledge is actually applied to individual lives and everyday behaviour changes so that each follower becomes more like Jesus in all that they do and say.
None of this happens overnight – it all takes time without which the relationship is less likely to last or at least will be inevitably less rich than it might otherwise have been. If your commitment to follow Christ is genuine then both your time and your talents, your heart and your mind will become obedient to His purposes and your life in all its fullness will be blessed in ways you will hardly be able to imagine.
What is the point of church anyway?
The dramatic descent into the San Diego, California airport had earned it the unenviable reputation of one of the most dangerous approaches in the world. The millions of twinkling lights in the still clearness of a California evening made it easy to pick out some of the local land marks. One unremarkable building I looked out for lay right under the flight path, the small church that we belonged to. But, this building was not the church, only the building in which the church met. The church was spread across the city for most of the week, coming together in this building on weekends and in homes during the week. The members and visitors would come together to worship, pray & learn together just like the countless local churches throughout the United States, Northern Ireland and the whole world – so what is the point of church? Is it a holy social club or an establishment for respectable people (or those who like to think they are)? Is it a place to go once in a while to keep on good terms with “the Man upstairs”. A place to be married or buried from, or is it irrelevant for a modern society?
CHURCH IS ABOUT PEOPLE
The Bible presents the Church as the followers of Jesus Christ, living together in community with each other and with Him. Jesus compares this close connection to the parts of a human body. Just as our feet take their direction from our brains and our legs and arms work together to move us forward to walk or run, so the people who follow Jesus are to live in close relationship with Him and each other. When we get hurt, we use the other parts of our body to care for the part which hurts. Just as our hands rub an aching muscle or dry the tears from our eyes, so Jesus’ followers are to care for each other.
CHURCH IS ABOUT FAMILY
Another picture the Bible gives us to help explain the Church is that of a family, the “family of God”. Love is the foundation of the family, not a ‘feel good’ love, but a deep commitment of the family members to put the others and their needs first. Of course, in our own families, we often get this wrong and sometimes hurt each other. As children grow, they hopefully learn to share – allowing their brothers and sisters to take turns on the bike, the games console… Food, shelter, care, discipline and love are essential to a child’s growth. God has provided the Christ-focused Church as an environment for all his followers to grow and learn together in a safe environment. Sometimes we get it wrong but because we are with people who care about us, they will help and encourage us to get back on the bicycle and try again.
CHURCH IS ABOUT HOPE
One evening I was caught high in the Mourne Mountains with two friends. We had misjudged the onset of darkness and were not equipped for a night on the mountain. In the fading light we stumbled over boulders, tussocks and streams trying to find our way. Without the aid of our compasses or maps the darkness deepened and we had no visual references to guide us. Eventually we saw the light of a farmhouse in the valley below. Following that light was our only hope. The world’s many philosophies offer little hope, at best they say there is no hope, so, live for the moment or do your best and maybe it will work out okay! The church that is committed to Jesus Christ is described as a “light”. You may be seeking for something you can’t quite put your finger on; the church is a light to those lost in the hills who want to find “The Way”, joy and hope!
CHURCH IS NOT FOR PERFECT PEOPLE
One common misconception is that only respectable people go to church, sadly this can be really off-putting. The reality is that the true church is filled with broken, imperfect people, people probably not that different to you or me! Whether or not you have yet experienced the joy of God’s forgiveness, the Church is there to help you –
YOU are the point of Church!
That God Shaped Hole.
The French philosopher Blaise Pascal did not actually say that the human heart had a God-shaped hole in it. What he actually wrote in reference to the unfulfilled longings of the human heart was: “what else does this craving and this helplessness proclaim but that there was once in a man a true happiness of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him … though none can help since this infinite abyss can only be filled … by God Himself.”
This “empty print and trace” is the echo of our most profound loss – the loss of an intimate and personal knowledge of an infinite yet personal God who made us for relationship with Himself. Though the Bible tells us that originally man was made in the image of God with a full and unfettered freedom to communicate and relate to Him man chose self-interest and rebellion instead of obedience and happy communion. The relationship was severed, the image was corrupted and the infinite loneliness of the human heart began.
But God did not abandon us for we read in the Bible (Ecclesiastes 3:11) that God planted (the awareness of) eternity in the hearts of men. We never lost in our innermost beings the sense that we were made for something – Someone other than ourselves. The constant striving of men to reach beyond themselves has shaped our history in an almost innumerable variety of ways but still we remain unfilled and unsatisfied. A very early Christian theologian called Augustine put it this way: “Lord you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you”.
Much more recently the well-known writer from Northern Ireland, C.S.Lewis said this:
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Maybe you need to seriously consider the possibility that there is more to this life than simply what can be seen or heard or touched … perhaps your heart’s longing is really God’s echo to tell you that there is more … and the more is HIM.