Following Jesus

As our family drove to church Sunday, my oldest daughter asked me if she was a city girl or a country girl. I chuckled and said, “You are a suburban girl all the way, Sweetie.”

Interestingly enough, as I listened to my pastor preach on Mark 8:27-30 an hour later, something he said reminded me of my daughters question and completely distracted me the rest of the service. He said, “Following Jesus means that we will not be insulated from the darkness of this world. Following Jesus means He's going to go where there is darkness, and destruction, and despair. And we are going to go there with Him."

I’ve had this thought before, as a young college woman, excited to go out into the dark world with the light of Jesus. But, I could hardly pay attention as my mind wrapped around this statement and what it meant for my four little girls. I thought of my family, middle class, home schooling, suburban folk that we are, and considered how pleasant it is to follow modern Christianity in the context of my seemingly safe and clean life.

Christianity in its original definition means to follow Christ - to be a Christian is to be a little Christ. However, it has morphed in this present time to the point that to claim to follow the theology of Christianity doesn’t always mean to be a follower of Christ. Oftentimes it looks more like a happy family photo framed by Hobby Lobby, tastes like a Pumpkin Spice Latte, smells like a Scentsy candle and fits neatly in a Proverbs 31 bag. It is so...nice.

The rules of the Christianity of this age tell me to listen to positive and encouraging radio stations only, to support and boycott businesses based on their moral values, vote republican, and throw out my leggings and yoga pants. As a Christian, I need to have a pocketful of Christian catch phrases ready to throw out at a moments notice and probably have a few coffee mugs and t-shirts covered with them as well. Following Christianity means sprinkling catchy slogans and political arguments across my social media feeds. All of this can be done from the comfort of our single family home in our HOA monitored neighborhood or while sitting in the Chic-fil-a drive through in my snazzy minivan.

I am not saying that those living in the suburbs of a first world nation cannot truly follow Jesus, but simply that it’s hard sometimes to find where some of what Jesus said about following him fits. For instance, when he says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” (John 9:23) I don’t think he was talking about wearing a dainty, cross necklace from James Avery. Jesus took up his cross and walked into the darkness of our sin and separation from God. How do we follow him into the dark places where sin has separated people from God when Christian culture doesn’t even allow us to shop at Target anymore?

When I’m honest, I have to admit that the darkest corners of my city may as well be in a foreign country. I am not familiar with these dark places, but if I drive through them I’ll be sure my doors are locked.

My kids are not familiar with these places either, and this is what really caught my attention most on Sunday.

Two questions I sat in my seat and tried to answer are:

1. Am I teaching my children to follow Jesus, or popular Christian culture?

2. Do I trust Jesus to be with my children should they choose to follow him into the darkest corners of the world?

If I look at the course of our day to day, I’m honestly not sure. I know in my head I want my children to follow Jesus, but there is a little part of my heart that fears what that really means for them. If my children truly fall in love with Jesus and follow him with their whole heart, he may very well lead them to be light in some very dark, scary places that the neat and tidy version of Christianity would deem God-forsaken and to be avoided at all cost, and I’m not sure this mama’s heart can handle that.

The temptation then is to invite my children to follow the softer more pleasant version of Christianity.

The problem is that this version of Christianity doesn’t tell us the truth about the world we live in. Because the world we live in is not nice. It is very dark. And following modern Christianity lets us believe that the dark is out there and doesn't affect us. We don't have to think about the children who are sold into sexual slavery if we don't want to. We can pretend it doesn't exist.

But Jesus said differently. He said the dark was inside us - in our hearts (Matthew 5:21-30). It’s not just what we do, it’s who we are. The darkness is not afraid of our organized closets and tidy scheduled activities. The darkness is here, in the pristine suburbs and in our very souls. When we try to follow Christianity instead of Jesus there is no light to shine into that darkness, and yet we foolishly believe that our lives are shining brightly from our sanitized place in the world.

But Jesus says this, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:25

So here is my struggle. Am I willing to lead my children to follow Jesus into the darkness? Do I love the mission of Jesus more than I love the safety and comfort of my suburban lifestyle? Am I willing to see my children lose their lives for the sake of the Gospel?

Chances are, my children will not be faced with execution for their faith. My husband and I are in the process of planting a church in the friendly suburbs of Houston. I don’t know what kind of darkness Jesus is going to lead us to as we plant in this mild-mannered Texan town. To be sure, there is darkness here, we have not kept it out with our cedar fences and trimmed hedges. We will come face to face with it as God brings people out of darkness into his light, and as we face the sanctification of our own hearts.

I can’t help but think of Gloria Furman. She and her husband, along with their four children, have planted a church in Dubai. It’s hard to imagine the darkness they have followed Jesus into as I sit here in my air conditioned home, gazing over the neatly manicured cul de sac outside. So I am encouraged when Gloria writes in her book Glimpses of Grace,

“God is a good Father, and he never ever considers for even one moment letting us remain satisfied with anything less than himself, because he is the most satisfying treasure in the whole wide world.”  

I am encouraged because what this means is that God loves me enough to not allow me to be satisfied with neat Christianity. And he loves my children enough too. He loves us all enough to never allow us to be truly satisfied with the small idols we can create with our own hands. The safety and security of my Christian life, while it may keep my children from the dark places of the world, will never satisfy them the way following Jesus will.

This confounds us. We are creatures who are continually striving to build a life that requires little discomfort and greatest pleasure. However, following Jesus will rarely lead us to a life of comfort, but it gives something far greater - a life that can never be lost. It gives us the life of Jesus himself. His life, exchanged for our darkness. The darkness in our hearts, that we cannot escape, is exchanged for the righteousness of Christ. No correct political view or prestigious zip code can give us his life. The reality of Jesus’ life reminds us that there is no other haven from the darkness of sin.

Apart from Christ, we have no hope of life. We must follow him or perish in the darkness of our own sin, eternally separated from God.

My prayer for us today, is that we will relentlessly follow Jesus, and lead our children to do the same. I pray that we will resist the temptation to give them a neatly packaged religion that keeps them from understanding the depravity that required a bloody cross. I pray that instead of trusting our trendy Christian worldview, we will trust Jesus to walk with us and with our precious children as he leads us into the darkest of places to proclaim the light of his Gospel.

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you…So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:5-12; 16-18

For further encouragement:

Matthew 5:13-16; Proverbs 4; John 1:1-5