Faith, Parenting

Follow On

follow on

Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. John 1:35-39

When we speak of “following Jesus” today, we mean that we follow in His footsteps figuratively. We keep His teachings. We obey Him. We submit to His leadership.

But when Jesus was physically present on earth, people were literally able to follow Him. Around. As in, walking right behind Him. Maybe even stepping on the backs of His sandals like my children do to me sometimes.

Which got me to thinking. Why do people follow other people around? And who are these people who follow other people around? And why are my children and my dog always following me around? And why does it annoy me when my children and my dog follow me around? (Ok, I haven’t figured that one out yet, but there’s some kind of a sin issue in there somewhere, I’m sure.)

Who?
First of all, you don’t usually see an adult following another adult around unless one of them is a stalker. But there are a some occasions in which it might be appropriate and legal, for example, if the person being followed is a tour guide, or if the person being followed is a seasoned employee training a new hire. Much of the time, literal followers are children. And at my house, the dog.

Why?
Why do people follow people around? Think about it– have you ever followed somebody around? Why did you do it? Do people follow you around? Why do they do it?

People generally follow another person around because:

a.) they are interested in what that person is doing,
or
b.) they want to learn from that person,
or
c.) they have no idea where they’re going and the person they’re following does. 

That’s why people followed Jesus around. They had heard that he spoke and taught as no one ever had before. They had heard about the miracles and healings. They were curious. Were the rumors true? What might they see? Would Jesus do something for them?

For some, that initial interest blossomed into a desire to sit under the tutelage of Jesus. They couldn’t get enough of His teaching, so these first century groupies followed him from speaking engagement to speaking engagement.

Certainly, none of the people who followed Jesus around had a clue as to where they were going, spiritually speaking. Jesus did. He not only knew the way to the kingdom of God, He was the Way. Who better to follow?

So why do my children and my dog follow me around?

Well, my dog follows me around because hope springs eternal in her that I will drop food on the floor, or that one miraculous day, the meal I’m cooking in the kitchen will actually be for her. She’s not interested in learning anything from me and she knows her way around the house just fine.

My children follow me around for the same basic reasons people followed Jesus around. They’re curious. They want to know what I’m doing, and they hope it will be something fun that will involve them. When they’re young, even cooking, sweeping, and folding the laundry seem interesting to them (yeah, my kids don’t get out much) and they want to learn how to do it just like Mom. When we’re in an unfamiliar place, they follow me because they don’t know how to get where we’re going, and I do.

Which makes me think.

How am I walking? Am I walking the way Jesus walked? Do I walk uprightly? Do I walk in integrity?  Do I walk blamelessly?

Do I follow Jesus so closely that by following me around, my children can learn to follow Him too?

Faith

Facing the Furnace

Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?

“Now if you are ready…to fall down and worship…very well; But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”

Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.

“If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.

“But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated.

Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their other clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire.

Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They replied to the king, “Certainly, O king.”

He said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!”

Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire.

The…king’s high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them.

Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God.

“Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.”

Daniel 3:14-29

What a great story. It’s almost Disney-ish in the telling. Three boys rise from virtual anonymity to high and respected places of power and influence. Next– oh no! –there’s a brief period of drama and suspense. But then, as we knew it would, comes the happy ending. Cut and print. That’s a wrap.

Hang on. Rewind.

If you grew up in church like I did, you probably can’t remember a time when you didn’t know the happy ending to this story. Check that. This wasn’t a story. This was a historical event. It was a real situation that happened to real, flesh and blood people, with real feelings, just like you and me. And just like you and me, when these boys were in the middle of their circumstances, they didn’t know what was going to happen next or how things would turn out in the end.

I think we forget that sometimes. We forget how frightening it must have been for Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to stand up to this megalomaniacal king and say, “Regardless of the outcome, we’re not going to worship an idol.” They served in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. They had seen what this guy did to people who disobeyed him. Cruel and unusual punishment was his specialty.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego weren’t out to be heroes. They didn’t know that they would be written about and set an example for Bible-readers for thousands of years to come. Their only concern was personal obedience to God. Whether they lived or died. Whether or not anyone else noticed. They were in it for God, and God alone.

But since they were written about, what can we learn from their example?

Truly following and obeying God means trouble is coming our way.
How’s that for an advertisement for Christianity? Jesus didn’t say, “Follow Me so you can have ‘your best life now’.” He said, if you want to follow Me, you’d better realize from the get-go that you’re going to have to deny yourself and prepare to be crucified daily (Luke 9:23). He said, “Look, the world hates Me. If you follow Me, they’re going to hate you, too.” (John 15:18-20) He said, “In this world, you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33). Following Jesus is not a skip through the park.

Gird up. Now.
Where do you think Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego got the spiritual fortitude to stand against Nebuchadnezzar? These weren’t guys who just attended church, read the Bible, prayed whenever they happened to feel like it, and had a lackadaisical attitude towards their walk with God. You know how I know that? Because people like that don’t do great things for God. People like that fold when faced with the furnace.

These guys were firmly rooted in the Word and in prayer. They were serious about obeying God, even when it came down to meal time (Daniel 1:8-15). They had such an awe and reverence for God that they feared His judgment more than the furnace. They were able to stand firm because they were already girded up in the faith.

Don’t kick against the trials, embrace them.
God is sovereign. Any circumstance that comes into your life was put there, or allowed there, by Him. Even if it’s a circumstance that is confusing, horrific, or heartbreaking, He is allowing it into your life for His glory and for your good. Maybe He’s trying to reveal something to you about Himself, such as His faithfulness or His power. Maybe He’s disciplining you so that you will repent and obey Him. Maybe He’s trying to teach you a skill, such as patience, endurance, or persistence in prayer. Whatever it is, what greater blessing could there be than the God of the universe wanting to work in your life?

Just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego did not have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the furnace, accept that God has the right to use whatever means He deems necessary to work in your life, and thank Him for even wanting to. (Romans 5:3-5)

Trials allow us to know God in a new way.
It’s one thing to know, “…I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) just because the Bible says so. It’s another thing entirely to know it because you have walked it with your own two feet. Just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego would never have come to know the manifest presence of God had it not been for the furnace, we cannot know Him as Provider without experiencing desperate need. We cannot know Him as Healer without facing disease. We cannot know Him as Comforter without experiencing crushing loss. It is not until we are in the furnace with nowhere else to turn but to God that we can experience the fullness of His promises.

What about Bob?
Or Joe or Mary or Nebuchadnezzar and all his cronies? What effect does the trial you’re going through, your reaction to it, and God’s handling of it, have on the people around you who need to know Jesus? Maybe it’s not just to grow you, but to bring someone else to salvation.

In verses 2, 3, and 27, Daniel gives a detailed list of the heads of state who witnessed this event. That was no accident. In His mercy, God brought each of these officials to Babylon to show Himself to them. Through Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s obedience and subsequent suffering, God’s glory and power, and the fact that He was the only true God, were displayed for all to see. Look at the reaction Nebuchadnezzar had in verses 26-29. In verse 26, this idol builder does a 360 and calls God, “the most high God”. In verses 27 and 29 he says, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego…there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.”

Trials aren’t any fun. They can be scary. They can be heart-wrenching. But if God gets glory, how small a sacrifice and how great an honor is our suffering.

Sanctification

With the First Fruits (and all the subsequent ones, as well)

Honor the LORD with your wealth
and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
Proverbs 3:9

Ouch. God really convicted me of something yesterday. The verse above, in its proper context, is clearly talking about honoring God with our material increase: our money, our possessions, the tangible fruit of our labor.

I’m a stay at home mom. My paycheck does not come in the form of dollars and cents, but in hours and minutes. My wealth is time, and lately, I haven’t been honoring God with it.

I confess, I have workaholic tendencies. I hit the ground running when I get up and don’t stop until I go to bed. We just moved into a new house. There’s a mountain of work to be done, and that’s how I’ve been spending my wealth of time. I have squeezed God in when it was convenient for me. I have given God the leftovers of my time; the scraps from the table He Himself has seen fit to bless me with. I have pushed Him aside and lavished my wealth on work.

I don’t want to “make time for God” any more. I want Him to so consume my heart, my mind, and my spirit that I can’t tear myself away. I want to be engulfed in passion for communion with Him. He is only honored when I give Him what He is rightfully due– everything.