There is a book entitled “In His Steps” by Charles M. Sheldon that has sold over 22 million copies. It is considered one of the most widely read books of all time, and its influence on the Christian community is unmatched. It has been 25 years since I read this book, but the events of recent origin have led my mind back to this Christian treasure as the Holy Spirit has been convicting me and causing me to ask myself, “What would Jesus do?”
The book is a fictional account of a pastor who challenges his congregation not to do anything without first asking themselves this question: “What would Jesus do?” And as his congregation did so, it radically changed their lives and the lives of their community. But doing so required much suffering, inconvenience, loss, and pain. I highly recommend that you find a copy of this book and read it when you can find some time.
In the past eight months God has totally turned my life upside down as He is transforming me into His image and likeness on a daily basis. I must say that this is the most exciting time of my life since 1988, the year that I got Born Again. The difference is simply that I have been praying for the LORD to lead and guide my every step. I want to follow Jesus with a life of faith and obedience. As the old hymn goes, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
As I have followed His lead, the Word of God and the Spirit of God have challenged my old thinking in a way that I never thought possible.
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." - Romans 12:1-2
This word renewing here means renovating, just as we are renovating our church building on Eastern Blvd. We are taking a 60-year-old building and totally ripping out the old electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems before we can put the new systems in place. All of the guts of the building have to be totally redone, before we can paint, put new carpet down and make it look pretty. As I have witnessed this renovation project, it has become apparent to me that as we do this work to the church, God is making a demonstration as to the work He wants to do in our minds. He wants our minds totally renovated, totally overhauled, totally renewed. “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds.”
As this transformation occurs, I find myself thinking differently about God, about myself and about others. I once leaned upon another person to help me find the will of God, whereas I now realize that the Holy Spirit wants to tell me each day what He wants me to do. I once thought that evangelizing the lost was the job for those whom I thought were lessor enlightened Christians, but now I see that it is also my calling and my responsibility. And I even thought that taking care of the poor, the hungry, and the needy was the responsibility of the government, or the Catholic Church, or humanitarian organizations. It certainly wasn’t the way I wanted to spend my time or my money, especially since the so-called less mature Christians could take care of this seemingly smaller need. After all, I was called to be in the Bride of Jesus Christ, and I thought I needed to spend all of my time and effort focused on growing in God to insure the eternal reward of the New City was safely in my grasp. I thought I wasn’t called to merely a social gospel, but to a seemingly much higher calling.
As I reflect upon my old way of thinking, it makes me spiritually nauseous as I come to the revelation that most of my Christian life has been spent in an absurdly selfish manner. I am embarrassed and ashamed as to my lack of faith and trust in God's Word. I have spiritualized the Bible away and failed to take it literally. It is as if the more I read my Bible, the more I was convinced that God didn’t really mean what He said. Are we willing to take God at His Word and apply it to our everyday lives, or are we not? That is a question that we should be asking ourselves.
Is our definition of living the Christian life just giving ten percent of our income to God, but being generous at no real expense or pain to ourselves? Do we try to worship God in a nice, beautiful sanctuary with friends, relatives and beautiful, sweet people that we love being around? Do we try to avoid the big sins of the world and to live as clean of a life as we can possibly muster up with our self-effort, or to build a good track record of spiritual performance so that we can be an example for others to follow and gain eternal reward in the process? If this is an accurate picture of the way we think, then we need to ask ourselves if we are really following Jesus, or if we are trying to get Jesus to follow us?
The Bible is clear that we are to walk as Jesus walked. But if we will really examine His footsteps, are we walking in them or in our own? Do the footsteps of Jesus continually lead us to church, then out to our favorite restaurant with friends, then to our warm homes surrounded by those we love and trust the most, then to work, then back home and back to church again? Are we really doing the things that Jesus did while He walked on this earth 2,000 years ago?
"He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked." - I John 2:6
Are the footsteps of Jesus filled with pleasure and a pain-free life, or do the footsteps of Jesus require suffering, sorrow, loss and pain?
"For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:" - I Peter 2:21
Those of us who want to be in the 144,000, standing on Mount Zion and singing a song that no one else can sing, should especially understand this concept of following Jesus, for we have read this verse a thousand times that the Bride follows the Lamb of God wherever He goes.
"…These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth…." - Revelation 14:4
Jesus said that if any of us are going to come after Him or follow Him that it will require self-denial. This means that, instead of doing what we want to do, we will ask Him what He wants us to do. It is no mystery nor is it hard to understand that to deny one's self means to deny one's selfish interest, selfish desires, selfish ambitions, selfish agenda or selfish motives. Then He tells us to take up our cross daily and follow Him.
"And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." - Luke 9:23
To take up our cross means to kill the self-life. Remember, the cross is not an instrument of burden, but rather it is an instrument of execution. The cross is what Jesus brings in our life to kill the self-life, the old man or the carnal mind that is hell-bent on doing his own thing continually. Then Jesus uses this word daily, which means every morning I have to do this all over again, as Paul stated so plainly, “I die daily.”
What did Jesus do while He ministered for three and one-half years as He walked on this earth? He preached the gospel to the poor. He went to where they were, all the way down to the gutter and ministered to the multitudes.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor;" - Luke 4:18
He walked amongst the world and the multitudes, and everywhere He went He fed people naturally and spiritually. He touched people as He walked from town to town. He didn’t sit in His ivory palace and wait for people to come to Him. No, He walked and went to where the people were. He healed the sick, touched the lepers, raised the dead, opened the eyes of the blind and taught and preached the Good News to all. He rebuked the religious leaders and ate dinner with the prostitutes and publicans.
For us to live in luxury and have no consideration for the poor is hypocrisy (to say it as nicely as possible). I am guilty in this area, the biggest of sinners. I have never been convicted of such until recently, as I have not even had an ounce of spiritual compassion for the poor. I have preached that we are to love God with all of our hearts, and then we are to love others as ourselves. But, really, have I loved the poor, the needy, the drug addict, the alcoholic, the mentally disturbed, the emotionally obnoxious, the mannerly bankrupt, the socially unacceptable or the culturally distasteful?
"My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth." - I John 3:18
We love in word, but it is time we walk the walk and not just talk the talk. I know that many of you are asking yourself and you are praying to God to help you find out exactly what the LORD wants you to do. I see a burning desire in most of our congregation’s eyes to find out what is their mission, their calling or their ministry. Be at peace, because Jesus is going to show you exactly what He wants you to do.
I don’t know exactly what it is that He wants each of you to do, but I can promise you some things for certain.
He will ask you to love someone who is hard to love. And when they reject your love, He will ask you to continue to love them over and over again in many different ways.
He will have you forgive someone who is difficult to forgive, and once you have forgiven them it is certain that they will offend you again. And He will ask you to continue to forgive them, seven times seventy times.
He will have you do something that you never thought you would do, and this thing He will have you do will disrupt your comfortable lifestyle. This thing will require self-denial and death to your flesh on a daily basis, over and over again, morning by morning and evening by evening.
When you do this good deed, then Jesus will ask that you do not boast about it to others, but that you do it in secret, giving God all of the glory, because if you do it for your own glory in the eyes of man, then you have your reward, and it is a temporal one instead of an eternal one.
I can promise you that following Jesus—I mean really walking in His steps, really trusting Him, really obeying Him—will require an absolute abandonment to His will to the point where you will experience suffering, sorrow, loss and pain. To follow Jesus will disrupt your comfortable life-style. I can promise you that for certain.
As pastor Henry Maxwell challenged his congregation in the fictional story, “In His Steps,” so do I challenge the congregation of Return Ministries. Let’s take the next full year of our lives and not do one thing without first asking this question: “What would Jesus do?” Understand that our choices may cost us money, or reputation, or friends, or suffering or loss. But let’s choose to do it anyway. I want to really follow Jesus, not just in words, but in deeds and action.
Faith without works is dead. I will not spend another waking moment kidding myself into thinking that my religious pious ways are pleasing to God. How can I drive my luxury car right past poor neighborhoods while turning a blind eye to their obvious need? Am I no better a man than the priest or the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan that saw a man in desperate need and kept on walking?
Read Matthew 25:33-46 one more time and then begin to pray, “Lord Jesus, what would You have me to do? Where would You have me minister? To whom do You want me to reach out to and in what manner? How much do You want me to give? Where do You want me to give it?”
Jesus was speaking plainly that when we minister to the least of these, we minister to Him. He was plainly instructing us to feed the hungry, to give the thirsty a drink of water, to take in the strangers, to clothe those who need clothing and to visit those in prison.
My prayer of recent origin has been: “Jesus, break my heart for what breaks Yours.” Then this past week, I heard a popular Christian song by Casting Crowns that is entitled "Jesus, Friend of Sinners.” Here is the chorus and a verse from this awesome song.
Oh Jesus, friend of sinners
Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers
Let our hearts be led by mercy
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors
Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks Yours.
You love every lost cause; You reach for the outcast
For the leper and the lame; they're the reason that You came
Lord I was that lost cause and I was the outcast
But You died for sinners just like me, a grateful leper at Your feet.
“If it were not for the grace of God, there go I,” a famous Christian writer once said, as he looked at the masses of sinners in the World. How can we elevate ourselves as being superior over other people for any reason? This was the evil of Hitler and the Nazi party. They really believed that they were superior over others. They believed that the Jews were genetically inferior so much that they wanted to exterminate the entire race. This is the root cause of one of the greatest evils in the world today. If for any reason we think we are better than or superior to any other person, then we have a wicked root in our heart that needs to be dealt with at once. If we look down on others because we believe we are superior for political, economic, social, religious, genetic, racial, educational or cultural reasons, then there is something really wrong within our hearts. This is why the love of money is the root of all evil, or we could say the desire for gain is the root of all evil, and the desire for gain is to try to elevate your position in society or to increase your worth. When your natural or financial worth is increased, it is easy to begin to think you are worth more than others or that you are superior to others.
We must gain the understanding that every person with whom we come in contact is just as valuable to God as we are. There is no lessor or greater human being. A billionaire is just as valuable as a pauper in God’s eyes. Someone with no education is of the same value as the person with the highest degrees of education. Or a seasoned Christian of 50 years of walking with God is of the same value as a lost person who has never known a salvation experience with Jesus. A sick gay man dying of AIDS is just as valuable to God as my grandchild. A leper has the same value as a President of a great country. Jesus died for all of us. There is no greater than or lesser than human beings. When God instructs us to love our neighbor as ourselves, He is telling us to love them all.
As the LORD teaches us and instructs us in His Word, it excites me to think about all of the possibilities that lie in front of us at Return Ministries. God has given me a burden for the lost, the poor, and the needy. And not only that, but He has placed in my heart a supernatural love for these people that simply was not there a few months ago. With this He has instructed me to sell my favorite car, some of my favorite expensive toys, and even some land if needed and to give this money to the poor. More pointedly He is telling me to stop living so selfishly and start sharing my life, my resources, and my time with people that cannot possibly pay me back in any measurable way. To give to those who cannot give back, to love those who do not know how to love me back. And as I do it to the least of these, then I am doing it to Jesus Himself.
As the year 2015 comes to an end, I am challenging the congregation of Return Ministries to make the mother of all New Years’ Resolutions. In the year 2016, before we make any decisions, let us pause to first ask the question, “What would Jesus Do?” That will make all of the difference in the world.