What Is That to You?

Jesus showed Peter that he was going to die for Him. Peter then noticed John and asked Jesus about him. Peter was implying, “What is your plan for John? Will he die for you too?” Jesus responded by saying, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

That is a word I need to remember and keep remembering.

I have a problem with comparing my calling and ministry with other pastors. It’s the old story of the grass appearing greener on the other side of the fence. I’ve asked the Lord before, “What about ______? Why is their ministry/church different than the one you’ve entrusted to me?”

The Lord’s word to Peter is a word to me: “What is that to you? You follow me!”

The Same But Different

Following Jesus is the same for everyone in some ways. We all walk by faith. We’re all called to die to ourselves. But each of our paths are also uniquely crafted by the Lord for us. He crafts the obstacles for me. They’re perfectly shaped to hit me at the right time and in the right place in order to knock off my rough edges. If another were walking my path, it wouldn’t hit them in the right way. You might say my path is customized for me.

Knowing that gives me freedom to walk my path toward Jesus and not worry about someone else’s path. The Lord is customizing my brother’s path too. That path is not mine to walk. My path is here in Michigan, with my wife, my children, this church, this community, this denomination.

Jesus is not telling me to be apathetic to the path of my brother and ignore him when he needs help. He’s telling me to focus on what He’s called me to do and not be distracted by what He’s called others to do.

“Lord, what about my brother? Have you called him to go through the same struggle you’ve called me?” Well, that’s not a question Jesus cares to answer. He’s called me to follow Him. And it will help me to focus on that.

Not Friends With Jesus’ Followers? Not Friends With Jesus

I’m tired of people saying they love Jesus but either have a loose affiliation with or flat out reject any fellowship with followers of Jesus. That’s not true, and I can prove it to you by Jesus’ own words.

In John 15:12 Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” He is talking to His followers at this time–not just anyone, which is very important. Then Jesus said in John 15:14 “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

Let’s get this straight by turning these verses into an if/then exercise:

  1. If Jesus commands His followers in verse 12 to love each other . . .
  2. And if Jesus said in verse 14 that His friends do what He commands . . .
  3. Then we can conclude that if someone doesn’t love Jesus’ followers, they aren’t friends with Jesus.

I am tempted to jump to the obvious implication that if you don’t regularly attend church, then you should wonder whether or not you are truly friends with Jesus. But that is too easy of an implication because it still possible (likely?) that there are some who regularly attend church but that don’t love followers of Jesus.

You can force yourself to sit in a pew one hour a week and still not love Jesus’ followers. So while I do think local church attendance is part of how a follower loves other Jesus followers, I need to press this implication further.

If someone is characterized by any of the following:

  • Spends little to no time with followers of Jesus throughout their normal week
  • Holds on to resentment toward followers of Jesus
  • Is unwilling to serve or sacrifice for followers of Jesus
  • Is apathetic about the hurts or needs of followers of Jesus

Then that person should ask themselves if they’re truly a friend of Jesus. How could someone claim to be a friend of the King of kings and refuse to do what He says? They might identify as “Christian” in a kind of cultural way, but that term is increasingly different than a true follower of Jesus.

Thank God for Philip

Philip had been following Jesus for nearly three years by the time Jesus asked him what might have been the most gut-wrenching question he had ever heard. Jesus had found him on His way to Galilee and simply said, “Follow me.” Philip found Nathanael and took him to Jesus (John 1:43-46). He spent time with Jesus every day: following Him around, eating with Him, talking with Him, learning from Him.

He had heard Jesus talk about His Father countless times. Jesus did His Father’s will. He came from His Father and was sent by His Father. He was given authority by His Father. Jesus said “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19). He even claimed to be God on several occasions, using the famous phrase, “I AM,” when talking to the Jews (John 9:58). Philip heard these things.

But when Jesus said something similar in John 14:7 (“If you had known me, you would have known my Father also”), Philip replied by asking Jesus to show them the Father. That’s when the gut shot came:

“Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?” (John 14:9a).

A Lot Like Me

I feel like that at times. I’ve been following Jesus since I was seven years old. That makes 23 years. And sometimes I feel like I barely know Him. I ask Him questions I should know the answer to. I express frustration about things I should be having faith through.

But here’s the thing: Jesus still didn’t reject Philip. 

The question probably stung–as discipline does–but it didn’t destroy him. None of the wounds Christ gives His true disciples destroy. They only push us closer to the Lord. It’s a loving correction that we need.

A Lot Like All of Us

Philip is like all of the disciples. In that moment at the beginning of the upper room discourse, many of the disciples were confused and asking Jesus questions. He was about to die, rise again, and then leave them for a time. They thought His kingdom would be consummated directly after the resurrection. Jesus was telling them that He was doing something they didn’t expect, and it scared them. That’s why Jesus said on multiple times in chapter 14 of John, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.” Philip wasn’t the only one having trouble processing what was happening.

But that didn’t mean Philip wasn’t following Jesus.

Being a disciple of Jesus doesn’t mean having a perfect understanding of how God is working in all of life’s events. It means seeking to follow Jesus in the midst of those events. Sometimes we’ll ask Him questions we should already know the answer to. And there may be a small, healing wound as a result. The important thing is not whether or not we have questions. The important thing is this: who do we bring our questions to? 

True disciples bring their questions to Jesus. That’s why I thank God for Philip.

 

Pastoring (and Disciple Making) Is Slow

There are countless things faster than helping people follow Jesus.

  • Watching paint dry
  • Waiting for water to boil
  • Christmas
  • Divorce

Since a pastor is a chief disciple-maker, we know firsthand how slow it is to help people follow Jesus.

It’s absolutely NOT like a business. The CEO of a business spends 40+ hours a week with employees of the company and has great authority to back up his goals and vision. A pastor spends approximately 1 hour per week with the flock, and with those that doze off during a particularly long hour, you can’t even count that one! 🙂 That doesn’t mention the reality that it is rare for a church member to actually attend Sunday services weekly.

Since the amount of time I have with people is so limited, I’m learning two things:

  1. Perseverance is one of the most important traits needed in helping people follow Jesus. Kevin DeYoung once called it faithful, consistent plodding. Another lesson to prepare. Another sermon to write. Another visit to make. Another idea to brainstorm. Another text to send. Another cup of coffee to drink. Another conversation to have. Another encouraging word to share. Keep going.
  2. Investing in and equipping leaders must be a priority. There is only one of me (thank God). It is not my job to take care of the body of Christ. It’s the body’s job to take care of the body of Christ. What is my job? To help the body care for itself (and make disciples!). Ephesians 4:12 is what it’s about. Equipping the Saints to do the work of the ministry. I have some work to do in this area!

Every pastor knows we don’t do this for visible fruit in the moment. Sometimes what we think is fruit isn’t really fruit, and sometimes what we think is someone being angry at us during a sermon is someone God is dealing with in very deep ways. So join me persevering and investing in leaders. It is slow work, but it is eternal work. Remember the parable of the seed growing secretly. One day, when the Kingdom is fully revealed, everyone will see how all-encompassing the kingdom is that we are building with the Spirit’s help. Right now, it’s just under the soil. So we sweat and strain, and we plod.