We, therefore, desire to copy his character and put our feet into his footprints. Be it ours to follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. What saith our Lord himself? “Follow me,” and again, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Not Christ’s apostle, but Christ himself, is our guide; we may not take a secondary model, but must imitate Jesus himself. Charles Spurgeon
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5
Many years ago, I had the benefit of listening to a sermon series on our progression as a disciple of Christ. I have heard many pastors say there’s too many of us Christians who seem stuck at the beginning of that progression and aren’t fully living the life Christ wants for us.
It may even come as a surprise to some that there is an expected “progression” in our faith lives. We assumed that once we accepted Jesus as our Savior we’re done. We are able to check off that box on the questionnaire asking what our faith is: Christian.
"But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:16
We all have probably heard the above verse a few times in our Christian lives. But reading the entire chapter reveals something even more. The progression.
"When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power." 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
The apostle Paul himself explains that when he first came to the people of Corinth He came with the first step in the progression – the message of Jesus’ love for us. That He died for us. He rose again for us. Paul goes on to say:
"We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature." 1 Corinthians 2:6
The mature. Who among your faith group would you deem “mature” in their faith? Who among them would you deem a “baby Christian?” And where do you count yourself? This is not asked in judgment. All who are saved are equally loved by God. But you can probably tell the difference between people who are further along in their faith progression and those that aren’t. And it has nothing to do with age. The sign of a maturing Christian is that they’ve received the gift and have actually opened the box and are using it.
So what is this progression? In the sermon series I mentioned, these steps were defined as:
- Believer – Mark 9:23
- Follower – Luke 9:23
- Apprentice – Ephesians 4:14
- Learner – Philippians 4:9
Jesus Himself shows us this progression as He lived out those three world-changing years.
- Step 1) The Loving and Faithful Friend
- Step 2) The Obedient Servant
- Step 3) The Courageous Warrior
- Step 4) The Patient Teacher
- Step 5) The Wise Counselor
Throughout this series, the Jesus Mindset, we will meet people – some famous and some very ordinary– who exemplify the different steps in the faith journey. And it is only correct to start with the first step. Lest we think we have step one down pat I should warn you that so many Christians remain in step one because of the difficult truths and expectations presented. It is the message we hear over and over in our churches. It is the first and the last message Christ has for us, which makes it the most important of all.
“As the Father loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” John 15:9
When I was researching various pastors who make love and friendship a cornerstone of their message I realized I had an old friend already in my midst waiting to talk to me again. As I perused through my Christian books I stopped on, “How Happiness Happens,” by Max Lucado.
Pastor Lucado probably needs no introduction. He is an internationally known pastor, author, speaker and more. He’s written too many books and articles to count. And the theme throughout is love. How to accept Christ’s love. And how to show love not just to our friends but to complete strangers. He reminds us that Jesus is our loving and faithful friend and wants us to model that character trait to everyone we meet. When you read about Pastor Lucado you see his lifelong mission is to set solidly in our hearts the message of God’s love for us. He shows us how to translate that great gift to others.
“I’m a pastor. I can sit down with somebody who has a broken heart and love them and encourage them and remind them of how God cares. But I struggle when I look at a budget. Or I struggle when somebody says, ‘Well, what’s the long-term strategy for our church?’ Well, I don’t know. I guess we’ll see. Let’s love God, preach Jesus, and pray.” Max Lucado on his leadership style
So much of what Pastor Lucado speaks of seems simple. And yet, I find myself day in and day out forgetting to live out the simple messages.
“Greet one another for your sake. Experience the joy of showing people they matter. Greet each other for their sake. What is small to you may be huge to them. Most of all greet each other for Jesus’ sake.” Max Lucado, “How Happiness Happens”
How often do we go through an entire day and find ourselves never having truly connected with another human being?
“Listen intently and praise abundantly.” Max Lucado, “How Happiness Happens”
Isn’t that what Jesus did throughout His ministry? You can only imagine how the woman at the well in John 4:1-26 felt when Jesus was with her. He wasn’t looking over her shoulder at a bird or cute dog while she spoke. He wasn’t thinking about the next town He was to visit or His next meal. He saw her. He listened to her. He loved her even when she pushed Him away.
It’s definitely easier to live out the Jesus Mindset of being a loving and faithful friend with people we choose to be around. We pick our friends and we even pick who in our family we spend more time with. We are deliberate with whom we ask to go to lunch at work. But Jesus loved the unlovable. He touched the untouchable.
“You wonder why God doesn’t remove the enemies in your life? Perhaps because he wants you to love like he loves. Anyone can love a friend, but only a few can love an enemy.” Max Lucado
Isn’t this where so many of us get stuck? We count ourselves, “good people” or “good Christians” and yet we harbor, at best unforgiveness, and at worst hatred for people.
I grew up in a household where unforgiveness and hatred ran deep. I had a parent who judged harshly and never forgave. People and places got etched into stone on “The List.” That was my touchstone, my guidebook. So when I started hearing the message of God’s love, faithfulness and forgiveness it was difficult to accept. The first step was to believe God felt that way toward me. And to be honest, I find myself frequently falling backward into not returning those gifts to others.
The lessons and examples from Pastor Lucado are great every day reminders on living out Jesus’ request of us to love one another.
“God is love” (1 John 4:16). One word into the passage reveals the supreme surprise of God’s love—it has nothing to do with you. Some people love you because of you. Not God – He loves you because He is He. Max Lucado
Isn’t that amazing? Wouldn’t you agree that most of the people in your life love you because of who you are to them? A daughter or son, a wife or husband, a longtime friend with similar interests, and so on. We may even find ourselves saying we love a person who is related to us but we don’t like them very much. It’s all conditional. But God loves us because He is love. Let’s not just gloss over that. Take a moment to really let it sink in. He is the definition of love. Like a cloud of love envelopes us and snuggles us wherever we go!
I saw a picture the other day of a woman at the store who had created a contraption designed to keep people six feet away from her. It involved a hula hoop, straps, signs, warning reflectors and more. When I saw this I thought, “that’s the exact opposite message of Jesus.” His cloud of love surrounding us is more like a fog bank — it pulls others in and seeps into everything. It quiets the world around us.
Today, when you go out into the world, picture your God cloud swirling around you. It’s beautiful and inviting. Its little tendrils reach out and wrap around others you meet. Invite them in with a smile, a greeting, a shrug of forgiveness. With each act of love we a do a bit of cloud seeding — leaving a piece of Jesus to grow.