nikFollowing Jesus

(Sunday 11 October -  Nik Gee)

Stiletto vs elephant

Here’s an interesting fact I read in the paper last week: a comparison between the force an elephant’s foot exerts on the ground and that of a woman’s stiletto heel.

This is a very simplified version: The pressure, which is measured in Newtons per square metre, is worked out by dividing the weight of the woman or elephant by the number of feet - then dividing that figure by the area of the foot on the ground (for this example I think they’re just talking about the heel of the stiletto).

stiletto elephant

To explain that more: divide the woman’s weight, let’s say 60kg (roughly 9½ stone) by 2 (her number of feet) then by 0.0001m2 (the size of her heels). This works out at a force of 3million Newtons per square metre.
When you compare that with an elephant weighing 5000kg (just under 800 stone) with 4 feet that have an area of 0.1m2 then the force that Nelly exerts is only 125,000m2 in comparison.

Basically it means that a large amount of force is concentrated in those tiny stiletto heels. And that’s the reason you’re always told not to wear them in newly resurfaced sports halls, or on posh floors.
I’m not telling you this just because it’s an interesting fact – it also explains how my knowledge of stilettos has grown within the last few days.

I remember at school hearing girls being told not to wear high heels because it would damage the floors, and ever since I’ve always thought it was because they were all scratchy. Now I understand that it was because the tiny heels were exerting a pressure dangerous enough to maybe even pierce the flimsy 3rd floor ceiling in B Block and bring them crashing down into Mr Grainger’s Humanities class.

My understanding of shoes has matured from knowing what a shoe is, to knowing they could cause damage, to knowing (vaguely) why that damage is caused!

And that’s kind of what I think the writer of Hebrews is telling us – relating to our lives as followers of Jesus, rather than merely stilettos.
There’s a process involved in following Him – as we grow up in our faith, so our understanding of who He is, what He’s about and how we respond to that needs to grow and mature.

Last week Kate focussed on how compelling Jesus is and how we need to fix our eyes on Him at all times, especially in difficult times. So I’m going to look at where we go from there – when we fix our eyes on Him, what do we see and what should we do in response?

Beginning to encounter Jesus

To be honest we probably didn’t know everything involved in this journey when we first met Jesus. It’s like me and shoes: I’m still learning more about how they work – I’m also still learning more about what it means to follow Jesus.

I remember when I was first beginning to encounter Jesus for myself.
I was around 18 and went along to a midweek meeting called The Upper Room in St Albans – purely because a girl called Maggie that I really fancied went there. There was a bundle of us, Goths & alternative types on the fringe of church, who went in and got lost in the worship, experiencing the presence of God – then we all went back outside to smoke during the talky bits and maybe popped our heads back in to snigger at them praying for each other at the end.
I didn’t really get it all, I didn’t have much biblical understanding – but I knew that somehow I was meeting with Jesus, and that He loved me, accepted me and wanted me to give Him my life.
So I’ve followed Him ever since, gradually finding out along the way what that decision means for my life.

Having recently been studying Hebrews with the Vineyard Biblical Institute, I was struck this passage:
In chapter 2:10-11 it says this:

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy (Jesus) and those who are made holy (us) are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.

I love that phrase, ‘the pioneer of our salvation’
It evokes in me an image of Jesus as a trailblazer, forging ahead; He is the one who leads the way.
When I first read this I was a little confused when it said that Jesus was made perfect through what He suffered – as I didn’t think He started off imperfect in the first place.
But on further investigation, it seems that the Greek word for perfect used here is better translated as completeness or fullness. So what it’s saying is that Jesus came for a purpose, and that purpose was completed through what He suffered.

He was always a perfect Son, but His role as Saviour became perfect (complete) through His suffering
There’s a shift in attention from the idea of Jesus’ identification with God to his identification with us. The role of Christ is that of a pioneer, a pathfinder. He will be the one who will mark the way for us.
Jesus, as fully human, is blazing a new trail. And being a pioneer or pathfinder implies that others will and can follow.

It's like the first climber up a rockface – he takes the rope up that all the others will follow, he sets the belays and anchors. You can see the way, you know it’s been done – doesn’t stop it being difficult, doesn’t mean there won’t be times that you may fall some of the way, but it proves it’s not unachievable.

As a truly human being Jesus was not blazing an impossible trail.
Rather, his authentic humanity means that we can follow him on that trail to full obedience, wholeness and relationship with God the Father.

This is how NT Wright puts it:

There is nothing we face, today or tomorrow or the next day, in which Jesus cannot sympathise, help and rescue us, and through which He cannot forge a way to God’s new world”.

Summary point:

• So we know of Jesus. We’re beginning to build that relationship with Him. We’ve seen that He has shown us a way to the Father that is not impossible. We’re finding out more about this God we’ve chosen to follow.

Going through tough times together
As the author of Hebrews says, we are now brothers and sisters of Jesus, part of His family and following the path He has revealed to us.
It says in verse 10 that Jesus’ purpose was completed through suffering, and that implies that there will be tough times along the road for those of us that follow Him.

This would have really resonated with the original readers of this letter.
The Hebrews were a group of Jewish Christians going through a struggle.
Lots of their family, friends and neighbours hadn’t accepted that Jesus was who He said He was & were persecuting them for following Him, putting them under significant pressure to commit apostasy (which means to publicly renounce their faith in Jesus).
This letter is an encouragement to these people who are finding it hard to live their lives following the way of Jesus; that part of the journey will involve difficulty (as it did for Jesus) but that He can guide them through it.

The pressures of our lives may be different to those of the first readers of Hebrews, but the principle is the same. God wants to perfect us; he desires to move us closer to full obedience and relationship with Himself and He intends to help us through the pressures of our lives to accomplish that goal.
If Jesus is to truly be a trail blazer or pioneer for us, we mustn’t resist or run away from our pressures, but face up to them and seek His grace to help us find our way through them.

I know that sounds like a nice idea, but that when you’re in the middle of a struggle in your life it’s not so easy.
All of us here will be in different places in our lives:

• Some will be having a great time, feeling blessed by Jesus, relationships are working well, fulfilling jobs etc – and that is ok. Our journey with Jesus is not going to be a challenge at every footstep, there are, and should be, good times!

• Some of us will be finding things hard, either in your, jobs (or lack of), your relationships (or lack of), health problems, money problems, feeling distant from God, you may not even be sure you know who He is or if you want to follow Him – this is also part of the journey. The answer in these times isn’t “buck your ideas up, do a self-help course that will mean you can sort everything out, then feel guilty if you fail” – it’s acknowledge that you’re struggling and Fix your eyes on Jesus.

Knowing Jesus changes us
Following Him and growing in your relationship with Him might not always transform the situation into how you want it to be, but it will change you.
My mother-in-law, who is quite wise and very undeserving of the mother-in-law jokes I often make at her expense, has a saying that is very relevant to this. She says: God always answers prayer, it’s just that sometimes He says no.

This could become just a glib statement, but if we consider Jesus Himself in the garden of Gethsemane (the night He was arrested before being taken to be crucified).
He prays to God asking Him to stop what He knows is going to happen.
He says in Mark 14:36:
"Abba, Father...everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine

In this situation He calls out to God, asking for Him to end the struggle. But God knows the whole plan & purpose and does not choose to answer ‘Yes’, even to Jesus.
And see how this prayer ends: “not my will, but Yours be done”. Praying and seeking God results in submission to God and a resolution to keep going, trusting in Him.

In all difficult times, however big or small you think they are, your relationship with Jesus is key. And any relationship is stronger the more time you spend with that person and the more you know them.

Find out more about Him
This is another step in our maturing faith.
In times of challenge, we need to know on whom we’re calling for help.
Read the bible more. I would suggest that you can never read it too many times and that you’ll find that the more of it that you remember the more it will support the way you talk about God.

I was interested to read this quote from Albert Einstein:
"As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene....No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life".

If a deeply clever Jewish scientist is convinced that Jesus is not a myth simply from reading the Gospels, then I think it’s worth giving it a go!

If you’re really disciplined I recommend getting one of those 'read-the-Bible-in-a-year's. Although I think a lot of you will be like me and end up reading about 20 days worth at a time to catch up.
I find that something that works for me to rekindle my interest in the bible is to start in Psalms and play worship song bingo – find the lines in a Psalm that are key verses in some of my favourite worship songs.

Other things we can do are read some simple commentaries, such as the “...for everyone” books that NT Wright has written (e.g Acts... Hebrews...) He makes the books of the bible come even more alive through really simple, engaging explanations.

Watch some of Rob Bell’s Nooma videos, again giving fresh insight into some stories that you may know and revealing others that you’d never realised were in the bible.
Maybe watch 'The Passion of the Christ' or 'The Miracle Maker'.

Join the Alpha course – a great way for people that already follow Jesus to explore more about Him, or to find out if you think He’s worth following.

Or try out the School of Ministry that Erik Peeters has just started – another way to seek deeper understanding of what our faith involves.

Theology is a good thing!
Sometimes when we use the word theology we think it’s ok to treat it as a bad thing. We shy away from it and assume it’s going to be dry, dusty and irrelevant. We can almost be proud of the fact that our faith is simple and that we don’t know any of the more academic terms.

In fact, if we profess to be followers of Jesus, we should be devouring all means of learning more about Him that work for us.

If you told someone you were a Leeds United fan but couldn’t tell them how to get to Elland Road, didn’t know what time they played, who the manager was, didn’t know the names of key people in their history – they would quickly dismiss your claims.

And that’s just the start of being a fan – if you knew further information about the team, maybe about the background stuff of how they crashed financially and crashed down through the leagues after missing out on the Champions League in 2001, maybe if you had longstanding relationships with other like-minded people who you’d stood alongside on the terraces with for years – they might say you were a ‘real’ fan.
Just knowing their name and using it without any substance is not enough.

But where this analogy falls down is that we don’t just stand and watch Jesus from a distance having read about the great things He has done – it important to do that, but then we must also get involved and do the stuff.

The Case for Christ
I’d like to show a clip now by a guy called Lee Strobel – he’s a journalist and wrote a book called 'The Case For Christ', one of the most well-known explorations of the evidence for Jesus. Here he tells of how he first encountered Jesus
(click here to view the video clip)

Key points:

• He saw how knowing Jesus changed his wife
• He was so impressed with her transformation that he went to check it out for himself
• Meeting Jesus transformed him
• He knew that he had to take action in response (“I realised if this is true this has huge implications for my life”)

A people revolution
If you weren’t here last week, Kate told us how she showed different images of Jesus to random people at the art gallery and asked for their opinions.
meek mild as if

One response I was really struck by was the bloke in his early 20’s looking at this image of Jesus in the style of Che Guevara.
He said his normal view of Christians is they’re “so wrapped up in the fact they’re going to heaven that they’ve forgotten the real world...” (he) “liked the idea of a revolutionary Jesus... it showed Jesus was into a people revolution
A very good phrase.

You can take it two ways:
1. Jesus transforming people’s lives
2. Those transformed people then becoming part of His transforming process

We are the people in His revolution
He has chosen to reveal His kingdom to those who don’t yet know Him, through us.
That is what we signed up for when we chose to follow Him

This transformation – within ourselves and within those around us (as we act as His hands and feet) – happens at the same time.

Knowing Jesus doesn’t always change our situation, but it always changes us.
How we live, our actions and behaviour, reveal Jesus’ impact on our lives to those around us

We need to actively follow Him
As it said in Hebrews chapter 2, Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. He has redeemed and restored us, called us into community with one another and with Him, but it can’t stop there.

If you are brand new to following Jesus, or are truly tired out and in need of healing and restoration, then it’s fine to keep it simple and take your time with Him.
But for others, we need to become less apologetic about our faith, learn more about the Jesus we say is Lord of our lives, step out and let our lives reveal His glory.

I love some of the things that the author CS Lewis has written. Perhaps my favourite quote of his is this:

'A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse

You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to'.

We need to make that choice. As he says we can’t pick and choose what we like or dislike about Jesus.
If we choose to be followers of Jesus, the clue is in the title:
We have to follow Him.

We're not on our own
That’s what it means to grow in our faith and the great news is that Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit to work within us and help us through this journey too. Philippians chapter 2, (in the New Living Translation), says that:
“...God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him

So we’re not on our own. The Holy Spirit lives within us.
Jesus walked this path before us – and He sent us His Holy Spirit to continue to help us and transform us on each step of our journey.

A family with a purpose
We are part of a family, as brothers and sisters with Jesus
But we’re a family with a purpose

When He leads us through troubled times, that’s where we should go.
When He gently asks us to allow Him to heal us, we should let Him
When He calls us to step out of our comfort zones for others, that’s what we should do.

So let’s stand and worship this Jesus that we follow.
Nik Gee, 11/10/2009
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