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I AM A FOLLOWERTHE WAY, TRUTH, AND LIFE OF FOLLOWING JESUS
By LEONARD SWEET
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Leonard Sweet
All right reserved.
Chapter OneVIA: THE WAY
The voice that we hear over our shoulders never says, "First be sure that your motives are pure and selfless and then follow me." If it did, then we could none of us follow. So when later on the voice says, "Take up your cross and follow me," at least part of what is meant by "cross" is our realization that we are seldom any less than nine parts fake. Yet our feet can insist on answering him anyway, and on we go, step after step, mile after mile. How far? How far? Frederick Buechner
Long before the "dog whisperer," Cesar Millan, there was the "horse whisperer."
Monty Roberts was raised in the horse business. He learned there was one way to train horses: by "breaking" them. Through domination and force, which at times included striking the horse with whips or even tying and suspending the horse's feet and legs, a trainer would impose his will upon the animal until it reached the conclusion that total submission was the only way to survive.
In his early teen years Roberts began to study the behavior and communication patterns of wild mustangs in the badlands of Nevada. He took note of the nonverbal communication among the horses, a kind of horse language he named Equus. Drawing on this observation and his firsthand experience with horses, Roberts developed a breakthrough training technique he first called "hooking on" as opposed to "breaking down" the horse's will. This new training method was based on a cornerstone concept he eventually trademarked Join-Up. Join-Up not only stopped the "breaking" norms of traditional horse training. It showcased how to cooperate with the horse's own spirit, innate ways, and means of communicating as a member of the herd.
Monty Roberts's early experiments yielded a breakthrough in the equine-equestrian relationship. His techniques laid the platform for a partnership between horse and human rather than a coexistence through domination. The personality and full potential of the horse emerge through loving freedom and desire rather than domination and infliction.
Join-Up relies on invitation rather than imposition. The Join-Up technique invites an untamed horse that has never been ridden to willingly accept the saddle, bridle, and rider. It is a thing of beauty to watch. Monty Roberts enters a round pen with a wild horse. In as little as half an hour, he'll be riding the horse.
Roberts creates an atmosphere of mutual respect that communicates, "I'm not going to hurt you, and you don't have to follow me if you don't want to." After a brief period of introducing himself and interacting with the horse comes the penultimate moment. Roberts turns his back to the animal and walks away.
At this point the horse trains her eyes on Monty with all-out intensity and attention. She is asking herself, Where is he going? and Do I want to stay by myself? The horse must choose: I want to be with you. I want to join up and follow you on the way. She quickly decides: my safe place is with you. Dropping her head (equine language for "I submit to you") and trotting to Roberts's side, the horse says, "I choose to follow. I want to be with you."
Dante was right. In the end, it is only love that moves the planets and the stars. And it is love alone that draws us on the way.
Before Christianity is truth and life, it's a way. The first followers of Jesus were followers first, and they called their new adventure the Way. They were people of the way and people on the way. And we are too. We begin also by joining Jesus on the way. First followers grow faith more on assays than in essays.
The very fact that we can get on the way with Jesus is due to the divine leveling. At Christmas God came down to human level. The Hebrews spoke of leveling the path for the king to travel or making "his paths straight." The thought that the King of creation, the very Son of God, would come down on the road of humanity—travel to us, travel with us—in order to level the road and make our paths straight to our Creator ... no wonder we dare call this the greatest story ever told.
If followership is a way first, then the Christian life is a verb before it is a noun. Humans exist as humans only when we see existence as a verb and not a noun. For first followers, nouns are slow-motion verbs, moving images that characterize dynamic pilgrimage in God and life.
Nouns objectify and commodify. Verbs signify action; they move things along. First followers see God and life as an entire language in verbs. Pilgriming moves us from a noun-centric language to a verb-centric language. To join Jesus "on the way" is to cease being objects of our own glory and to become journeying, ever-moving subjects of Christ Jesus.
To follow is to "way" with Jesus. By faith we are saved, but through faith we follow. Faith is the highway, the "high way" of life. Followership is a "way," in that it is a path of exploration and discovery. The key is to get our feet on the path and to start pilgriming with Jesus. The Way is less a worldview than a worldwalk. The Greek word translated "follow" is most often rooted in the word for "road." To follow is to share the same road.
This thing we call life is a journey, a pilgrimage. Originating in the heart of God, through birth entry into the human and rebirth entry into the divine, we walk along the unique path that is our one and only life. Life is short. The chisels of family, friends, enemies, and lovers carve us and shape who we are becoming at this very moment. But the sculpting is never complete. The master Sculptor moves upon us as we move with him. We move in and out of darkness and light, experiencing plenty and want. But we do not go alone. At least we don't have to.
First followers are called not generally but personally—by name! Like Abraham and Sarah, our ancestors in the way of faith, we journey on through desert and village oasis with our covenant-making God. We are called to travel this life path that is at times bewildering and at other times clear and sure. But we always travel by faith and through faith in the One who is the Way.
A noun is a verb in time. Attributed to psychoneurolinguist George Lakoff
When we think of a pilgrimage, we may not immediately think of Christianity. Islam may come to mind instead because many of us have been taught that every Muslim is required to be a pilgrim to Mecca once in a lifetime. But this is not the case. The hajj is not required of every Muslim. It is a duty only for those who meet certain conditions, such as being able to afford the journey and not placing his family in want because of it. Only a very small minority of Muslims has ever made the pilgrimage to Mecca.
In contrast, pilgriming with Jesus is a mandatory requirement.
There is an ancient African phrase, "Will you walk with me?" It doesn't mean a stroll or short jaunt around the corner. It means to enter another person's world, to join his or her journey. To walk with Jesus does not mean to travel behind or in front of but beside him. To follow Jesus on the way doesn't mean to fall in behind him in a directional sense but to be caught up in what he is doing.
Jesus invites us to join his journey, to "live and move" and draw our very being from him. No one understood this better than the apostle Paul, whose hurrying footsteps took the gospel as far as Rome and whose "all things to all men" life was one of "journeyings often." As the life of Paul reveals, in the walk with Jesus, sometimes we run. Other times we slog ... or dawdle or saunter, wander or meander. Sometimes we hike. Sometimes we march. Or we trudge, limp, hobble.
Sometimes we pound the pavement. Sometimes we promenade. Sometimes we fall behind. Sometimes we follow at various distances. Peter at least followed Jesus "at a distance." At a distance is never safe, but it is better to follow that way than to flee like the other disciples did. We try never to run away. Or swagger. Or strut.
Whatever way we move, we do it with a sense of urgency, just as Jesus moved through his life on earth. The gospel of Mark has a favorite word, euthus, which means "at once, straightway, instantly." Whether Jesus moved fast or moseyed along, he typically proceeded with euthus, with a sense of urgency for God's mission in the world. He always knew just when to come and when to leave. First followers aspire to do the same.
But we don't first get it right and then follow Jesus. We don't get our theology down and our view of the sacraments all figured out or make up our minds what church to join before we follow Jesus. Only after the resurrection did his closest followers, the disciples, make sense of Jesus' promise to rise from the dead. Until then they debated among themselves what he was talking about.
In spite of what the Declaration of Independence would have us believe, truth is not self-evident. It has to be learned. For example, you learn Mozart by practice and repetition. By listening to Mozart you gradually begin to understand Mozart. You don't understand Mozart by not listening to Mozart.
When Jesus invited people to follow him, he was God's Whisperer: "Do you trust me enough to get on the way with me? I'm not asking for anything more than this: trust me enough to get on the way with me; trust me enough to hang out with those who are with me; trust me enough to hook on to my life."
The mind begins in incantation and then approaches comprehension. David Martin
In short, Jesus is saying to each one of us: "trust me enough to get up and go forth." We sing "Just a Closer Walk," not "Just a Longer Stay" for a reason. Lech lecha is the Hebrew command to Abraham in Genesis 12:1 to "go forth." Lech lecha means to go outward from your clan, your culture, your comfort zones and become a blessing for "all families of the earth." But there is a sense in which lech lecha also means to "walk toward yourself." To walk the way with Jesus is a pilgrimage both outward and inward. But you can't be who God made you to be until you have found your identity outside yourself in God.
Jesus does not give the entirety of the truth all at once. Walk with Jesus and you learn: you learn your sin; you learn your salvation; you learn the meaning of grace. Travel with Jesus. Journey on. You don't get the answers before the questions. You get the answers, or you learn to live with the questions as you go with Jesus. Both Jesus and the world need your inexperience and ignorance. Don't wait to solve the world's problems. Wherever you are now, whatever you are doing now, begin now.
Sometimes you just inhabit the mystery as you go with Jesus. My favorite moment in Handel's Messiah is when the bass soloist proclaims (quoting 1 Corinthians 15:51), "Behold, I tell you a mystery!" The journey of a pilgrim is filled with "things understood not." The great work of faith is to embrace those things you know not now but shall know thereafter or understand more fully by and by. Being a follower is less about showing how much you know than showing humble gratitude for how much there is to be known.
Orthodoxy is far from uniform. True orthodoxy is bolder, more liberating, more fantastical, and more adventurous than any heresy. Besides, sometimes what begins in the cry of a so-called heresy ends in heritage.
Jesus spoke these words, "Follow Me," not once but many times. He spoke them to Peter and Andrew by the Sea of Galilee. To Levi, the son of Alphaeus, at the seat of custom, he called, "Follow Me." To a balking inquirer, he motioned, "Follow Me; and let the dead bury their dead." To the rich young ruler, he challenged, "Sell what you have and give to the poor ... and come, follow Me." To all his disciples, he summoned, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."
Ours is to follow. His is to make us "fishers." To you and to me, he lovingly says, "Trust me." And if we dare to do that, to follow when Christ summons us, "dem bones gonna rise" and walk.
Walk This Way
In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk! Apostle Peter
But to follow Jesus, to "come, follow me," was fundamentally an invitation to halakha, to walk together. Not singly but in solidarity. It's not "I walked," but "we are walking." Life's solidity comes through solidarity with Christ and with the body of Christ.
Halakha (halakhah, halacha, halachah) is a Hebrew word commonly used to refer to the collective corpus of Jewish law, custom, and tradition. But it has a deeper meaning than "body of law." The word comes from the Hebrew root word for "going." A literal translation does not yield the word law but rather "the way to go." In Jesus the way to go was now no longer a body of laws; the way to go was now a Person who invites men and women into a relationship with God and with each other. Jesus chose the twelve disciples "that they should be with him."
Some have called Mary "the perfect disciple." Mary is a great model for us of what it means to "way" with Jesus.
To be a disciple is to "follow the way." And to follow the way means what?
Trust and obey. As Walter Burghardt puts it:
It began when a teen-ager in Nazareth heard God's invitation: Will you mother my Son? Yes. It continued when Mary lost her 12-year-old in Jerusalem: Will you let my Son go? Yes. It came to a climax on Calvary: Will you give my Son back to me? Yes.
Jesus himself defined following on the way in journey terms: "Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life." The language of "crossed over from death to life" is very specific. The verb used in the original is metabaino, and it denotes a journey kind of movement. There is a departure and there is an arrival, but there is also a territory between the two. A path to follow. A way.
Both beginning and ending are important, but have we made Christianity more a moment of decision than a momentum for life? Both are important, but have we spent more time on how you become a Christian than on what it means to live as a Christian? Both are important, but have we made holiness more about a destination than a direction?
Discipleship is the art of pilgriming, the artistry of following Jesus. Or the capacity to be caught up in what God is doing in the world today. We think art has to be made out of oil paint, bronze, or marble. But art can be made out of flesh and blood too. Jesus wants to turn you into an artwork. But pilgriming is an art form that takes a lifetime to dry.
There is a story about an old man who lived in a small village:
He was the poorest man in the village, but he owned the most beautiful white stallion. And the king had offered him a small fortune for it. After a terribly harsh winter, during which the old man and his family nearly starved, the townspeople came to visit.
"Old man," they said, "you can hardly afford to feed your family. Sell the stallion, and you will be rich. If you do not, you are a fool."
"It's too early to tell," replied the old man. A few months later, the old man woke up to find that the white stallion had run away.
Once again the townspeople came, and they said to the old man, "See. If you had sold the king your horse, you would be rich. Now you have nothing! You are a fool!"
"It's too early to tell," replied the old man.
Two weeks later, the white stallion returned, and along with it came three other white stallions.
"Old man," the townspeople said, "we are the fools! Now you can sell the stallion to the king and you will still have three stallions left. You are smart."
"It's too early to tell," said the old man.
Excerpted from I AM A FOLLOWER by LEONARD SWEET Copyright © 2012 by Leonard Sweet. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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