The weightiest lessons of life, spirituality, and faith have been taught to me by my children. I’ve learned more about human nature, unconditional love, trust and patience from the three children who live in my home than all the sacred books and theological studies in the world. “A little child shall lead them,” the prophet Isaiah said. And Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” My youngest son, Braden, must be a card-carrying member of this kingdom.
Braden always asks good questions, and typically he asks questions about everything. Just the other day he and I were talking about God and Jesus. He asked me, “What is a Christian?” Another good question, no doubt. I tried to shape an answer that a six-year-old could appreciate, so I said, “It’s just like playing ‘Follow the Leader.’ A Christian is someone who follows Jesus.” The boy smirked back at me and said, “Well, I’m not going to be a Christian.” Willing to take the bait, I asked, “Why not?” He answered with profundity: “I’m not going to follow Jesus. I don’t even know where he’s going.” Amen, my son, amen.
Truth be told, I don’t know where following Jesus will lead us, except to put us into some very tight spots. Consider Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7. We might think of these chapters as “Jesus’ Greatest Hits,” a summary of what it means to be his disciple. These words serve then, as a way – maybe the best practical way – to actually follow Jesus. And this following is not easy. In these three short chapters Jesus says things like: “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.
“If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also…Love your enemies…Pray for those who persecute you…Do to others as you would have them do to you…Don’t store up treasures here on earth…You cannot serve both God and money…Do not judge others.” On and on it goes. To take these words on their own, without the One who spoke them, they quickly become hard and fast rules. As words alone, they lead us to risk the impossible: Keeping an idealistic, unworkable ethic that will only grind the follower of Jesus into the dust; for Jesus leads us in a way that is counter to human nature and how the world operates.
But if we take these words along with Jesus, we quickly discover that in following him he gives us the power to do what he asks and grants forgiveness, encouragement, and grace when we fail. We discover that in living out his words and ways, we are transformed. We become shaped into the image of the One we follow. The word “Christian” is now all too common in our vocabulary, and I can barely stand it. It has come to mean a type of religion, or an adjective to describe music, politics or merchandise. This was not always the case.
The first record of the word “Christian” being used was in the first century. Outsiders coined the word to describe those who had adopted the words and way of Jesus as their own. It was not always a flattering term, and as all labels do, served as a means of putting people in a box. But these first followers of Jesus, or “the Way,” as they called it (a much better description), understood something: Jesus cannot be put in a box. He defies all easy explanation. He does not do what is expected. He is full of improbable but grace-filled surprises. And his followers should be so as well.
Braden is absolutely correct. Sometimes I have no clue where Jesus is going either, but this does not keep me from following him. Where else can I go? Only he has the words that lead to life.