We invite you to check out Jon's book available at Amazon (in paperback or Kindle edition) on following Jesus. The first sectionon Christian Basics is aimed at those just beginning their faith journey, while the bulk of the book is made up of two sections on Christian practices and how to implement them in your life.
Almost twenty years ago, I began to seriously contemplate becoming a follower of Jesus, a Christian. I had not grown up going to church – we were “nones” before it was trendy. Like many people I had picked up a bit of “Christianity” from the culture around me; I knew Christmas was his “birthday” and that Easter was about his coming back to life after being crucified. Also, I learned that Christians seemed to have a lot of rules, largely against anything fun, and that they were mostly a bunch of hypocrites. So, finding myself in my early thirties really wanting to be baptized and to follow Jesus was surprising, to say the least.
I’ll save that story for another book but, maybe like you, I found myself wanting to follow Jesus, but not really sure how to do it. My journey has taken me into full-time ministry as a pastor to a congregation but I’m still facing this question, except that now people are looking to me for the answers. This book comes from trying to answer that question for myself, for them – and for you.
Following Jesus, it turns out, is neither simple nor easy. It requires a great deal from anyone who undertakes to do it. In all fairness, Jesus himself warned us about this, telling people in his own lifetime that to walk in his path wouldn’t be easy – in fact it would be a bit like picking up your very own awkwardly heavy hunk of wood and going where you don’t want to go.
“He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”
Gospel of Mark, chapter 8, verses 34-36 NRSV
And yet, for two millennia people have accepted that the price of following Jesus was worth it, struggles and all. Because following Jesus, not just acknowledging him or his claims, but really trying to live your life by doing the things he did is truly wonderful – it is a joy. Jesus called this joy that arises in giving ourselves to him “abundant life.” And it is real. Faith is life-changing and for a better way of life than any you might have lived before. But lots of people who want to follow Jesus struggle with how exactly they should go about it. Some have gone to extreme lengths like standing on top of a pillar for decades (St. Simeon the Stylite) or by living in sex-segregated communities spending much of the day in prayer (monks and nuns) or even going off to the ends of the earth to share their own excitement and passion about Jesus with complete strangers (missionaries). Most of us though, probably don’t feel like we should have to go to such lengths and so we’re left with the dilemma of how to follow Jesus in the midst of our otherwise ordinary lives.
Lots of people have solved this dilemma by deciding that following Jesus would just require that they think about Jesus in a particular way. If we believe these certain facts or ideas, we might say to ourselves, ‘I am following Jesus.’ But it seems clear from the stories about Jesus gathered in the four gospels of the Bible that Jesus had something different in mind when he invited others to follow him. The only “belief” that he speaks of wanting his followers to hold is that he was sent by God the Father.
“Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”
Gospel of John, chapter 14, verses 9-11a, NRSV
In other words, if we want to know God, to know what God wants and to experience “abundant life,” we need only look to Jesus himself, his actions and the example of his life to understand everything we need to know about God and what our relationship with the Creator should be. However, it seems Jesus stressed this point mainly so that we would trust his counter-intuitive teaching and example, and this is made clear as Jesus continues his response to Thomas;
“…but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”
Gospel of John, chapter 14, verses 11b-12, NRSV
Jesus, as recounted in this exchange, was clearly less interested in getting people to believe something than in getting people to do something. His teaching was primarily about getting people to change the way they lived their lives. Jesus expected his followers to trust him and to act in their lives the way he himself acted. It is this, the emulation of Jesus that offers the best path for us to follow him – to actually go where he went and to do as he did.
What this book hopes to offer is a guide or blueprint for getting you started on your way to following Jesus. It is my hope to demystify some of what you might encounter as you take your first tentative steps into Christianity and provide some basis for the decisions you will need to make. I will also offer six practices, rooted in Jesus’ own example, that will provide a solid foundation for your faith. Taking up these practices will, I believe, bring you closer to God and closer to living into the kind of life God hopes for us; a life of love and grace and the thriving of the human soul. Abundant life indeed.