|credit: FURORE Photography|
It has been a journey of change, discomfort, peace, joy, angst, cynicism, freedom, worship, progress and confusion - sometimes all in the same day! Nevertheless, God has been faithfully loving me throughout the whole process.
Because of this journey there are some people - maybe you're reading this right now - who might think I've lost my mind. In some sense, I hope you're right! In fact, if I haven't convinced you yet, the rest of this post might just seal the deal.
At the beginning of 2013 I felt a strong push in my spirit to simply study Jesus and do everything in my power to become more like Him. It seems like a simple goal but it has turned out to be a life-changing process. I am not making any claims to have become like Jesus. I hope, in some small ways, my life is a better reflection of Him, but there are times when I feel like I might have farther to go than when I started!
The problem with trying to become like Jesus, I've found out, is that you don't get to pick and choose which parts of Him you want. If you study, and take seriously, the things He did and the things He said, you will surely want to imitate some and, just as surely, throw some out.
In Matthew 19 Jesus told a rich young man, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
That's probably one we'd like to throw out, right? But later on in the same story he says something we all want to embrace: "... with God all things are possible."
Or how about in the famous Sermon on the Mount that starts in Matthew 5 when Jesus said, "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven."
We might not want to throw that one out, but when somebody hurts us we can easily justify hurting them back, thus ignoring Jesus' words.
Later on in the same sermon, in Matthew 6, Jesus said, "... do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"
I like that one. I think I'll keep that one!
But what about when Jesus touches people with leprosy (Matt. 8:3) or declares Himself homeless (Matt. 8:20) or exorcises demons and kills a herd of pigs in the process (Matt. 8:28-24)?
What about when He says, "Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matt. 10:37-39)"?
How much of Jesus' life and words should we take literally? Where do we draw the line between really trying to be like Jesus and just knowing about Jesus?
These are the kinds of things my journey has forced me to wrestle with. Maybe you're starting to see why I called it an exciting, agonizing journey.
I'm certainly not done with the journey yet, but I was given a point of reference recently to help me see how Jesus has changed my life.
The picture at the top of this post shows me with the most important, precious people in my life. I cherish them more than I could ever describe. I was talking with one of these precious people recently and the topic of our upcoming move to the mission field came up, as it often does. In the midst of the conversation we talked about the level of risk involved with stepping into the unknown. Then some words came out of my mouth that I didn't expect, but believed with everything in me.
"If we die doing what Jesus has called us to do, it's OK."
Somewhere along this journey, my perspective had changed so much that I now believe Paul's words in Philippians 1:21, "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." to be true for me.
Of course, the thought of dying does not appeal to me. The thought of being separated from my family makes me sad. The idea of the future never happening makes me feel like someone close to me died. I have a normal amount of desire to stay alive and grow old with my wife and see my kids grow up. It's not that I despise this life or any of the good things God has given me in my life. I cherish all of it!
It's just that when I look at the life of Jesus Christ I don't see a man trying to preserve His own life. I don't see Jesus seeking more comfort or more stuff. I don't see Him working hard so He can put money in His retirement account and still have enough to go out to eat once in a while. And I certainly don't see Jesus living by His own agenda or seeking His own desires.
I know it sounds crazy when I say it, but I'm saying the same thing Jesus said in Matthew 26:39, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup (death) be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."
Unlike Jesus, my death on the mission field is far from certain. The chances of anything bad happening to any member of my family while we're on the mission field are very slim. However, I want to have the same resolve He had to fulfill His Father's will!
So, in accordance with Paul's words in Philippians 1:21 my life on earth is Christ and my death will be great gain! I'm ready, Lord, do what you want with me!