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Following.


Happy New Year! Here it is, 2020 and the unknown possibilities awaiting us. Well, not entirely. Some of the year is plotted by the norms that escort us in the journey. You know, the four seasons, relatively predictable weather patterns, personal health, work, family routines, and the groups, organizations, people, political parties, church, and other interests that steer us along every day. There is a rhythm to it, perhaps a rut on occasion, unexpected twists and turns, and certainly many surprises along the way. Multiple factors will influence how the year turns out for each of us. Who, what, when, where, why, and how we follow will no doubt be one of them.


Let's run in some circles about following. You must know by now that following is a natural human inclination. The heart that drives our machinery is totally self-centered and we will naturally follow those interests that tickle our fancy in some manner. Though our inner control systems are usually wired for autonomy, we're social creatures and will align ourselves with affiliations and favorites that suit our needs or express our leanings. Selectivity options are complicated, far above my pay grade. Even in the more teachable moments we often choose to line up behind the wrong groups or people. I can still hear that recurring conversation with our dear mother, Esther Holmes. She wanted me to explain some weird decision or action---"Why in the world did you do that?". You know the deal. Because everybody's doing it. So, we like to have it our way until the lure of others detours us into some bad decision making.


Good grief, how many times do mere mortals tell me they will follow their own hearts in making mature decisions and choosing adult behavior paths. We're usually a little naive in this follow my own heart thing. Scripture defines every detail of human nature and the heart is suspect throughout. Old Testament Prophet Jeremiah wrote, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17: 9, NIV). This truth is perhaps why Solomon was inspired to write, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Proverbs 4:23, NIV). The heart is the housing of our desires and wishes and is therefore the ignition point of our egocentric ways. More than anything else, it may be the reason we need to learn the spiritual disciplines that develop and mature our following instincts. There are times, more than we'd like to admit, when our hearts take wrong turns.


We can debate the many issues of the Christian life but there's little argument that it is first and foremost about following Christ. Christians are, at the most basic level, Christ followers. Our denominations and sub-groups define the rubrics of being followers in a variety of ways, the disciplines of faith and practice. All too often we slip to the edges of belief and transfer our trust to to these ways, following systems more than clearly identifying with him. There's no doubt that the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer, worship, fellowship, service, and sharing faith help us maintain focus as followers. But, they can become mechanical as well and following Christ isn't essentially about our performance of them. Following Christ is superimposing his example over every life dimension. It is being like him. And, it's not, at least in my limited opinion, a matter of speculation, the question "what would Jesus do?" Following Jesus is more certain and exact. The real question for me is , "what did Jesus do?"


It's the invitation that punctuates the Gospels so vividly and so often: "Follow me...". He spoke it to his closest intimates and to the crowds who gathered to hear his teaching. That same emphasis of following continued through the New Testament, usually with the contrasts of adhering to ancient Jewish practice, adopting the demonic and evil schemes of the mystery religions of that time, or seeking the approval of other people. Jesus never hinted that following him would be easy. He clearly said, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Matthew 18:24, NIV). And, of course, there are many other New Testament references about the nature of following him, too many to list in this space.


Following Christ is about patterning our lives according to his example. After washing his disciples feet during the last supper, he said to them, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done to you" (John 13:15, NIV). Then he promised them, "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them" (John 13:17, NIV). And, that's the thing about entering this New Year. The decision to follow his example in 2020 as we stand in the starting blocks today gives us the promise of blessings during the year. His example can guide us to the finish lines of 2020.


Simon Peter echoed this thought when he wrote, "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps

(1 Peter 2:21, NIV). That is the essence of the Christian life, following Christ's example. Just imagine what life in our nation would be if the millions of people who identify themselves as Christians actually followed his example every day. More importantly, what would life be for me, and for you, if that was our decision as we enter this New Year? If he is truly my example, would there be as much unfinished business in 2020 as there was yesterday?


Happy New Year! Friday I'll briefly explain Jesus the finisher, and pray that I'll learn his five steps to the finish line in 2020.


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