Saturday, August 20, 2016

Followers Of The Way

When the church began, way back in the first century, those early believers were not called Christians, at least at first. They were first referred to as "the Way". I remember when I initially came across that term in the Bible. It just caught my attention and I loved it. I still do.  

I don't know who first coined that term, whether it was someone on the outside or on the inside, but regardless, if you were considered a follower of Jesus back then, you were considered a follower of the Way. And that's with a capital W.

I lean toward the idea that those who comprised the early church came up with the name themselves because they knew without a doubt that Jesus was "the way". Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) Very powerful words.

Jesus is the way to the Father, the way to eternal life, the way to forgiveness, the way to peace, hope, and joy in this life. The only way. I am a follower of the Way. To say that I am a follower of the Way is to say that I am a follower of Jesus. A Christ follower. I might even get a t-shirt that says "follower of the Way".

I guess the reason I like the term, follower of the Way, is because the term Christian seems to have been watered down in many ways. If you were to ask people if they are a Christian, many would say yes, whatever that definition is to them. However, if you were to ask them if they are a Christ follower, that could be a different story. You may get some hesitation there.

Being called a Christ follower raises the bar. That sounds like more serious commitment. A Christ follower is more than just someone who believes who Jesus was. A Christ follower is one who follows the teachings of Jesus, and follows Him for life. But wait, isn't a Christ follower exactly what a "Christian" is supposed to be anyway? I think so.

The first followers of the Way were Jews who were converted from their long standing religion. They believed Jesus was the Messiah who died for their sins. And from the perspective of the Jews, the followers of the Way were heretics, deserters. Not only that, they were considered a cult.

Before the Apostle Paul became an Apostle, he was called Saul. He was a zealous Jew, a Pharisee, who was so against the followers of the Way, he tried to disband them, get rid of them, and even kill them!

Acts 9:1-2
"Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains."

Acts 22:4
 "And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison." (the words of Paul)

Of course, we know that Saul was eventually totally converted from Judaism to become a follower of Jesus. He was actually miraculously chosen by Jesus, on the road to Damascus. Saul did a 180, and became one of the most dedicated and devoted Christians. He wrote most of the books of the New Testament. He testifies to the fact that he was a follower of the Way himself. “But I admit that I follow the Way, which they call a cult." (Acts 24:14a)

Over time, the followers of the Way began to be called "Christians". "Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. 26 When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching large crowds of people. (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.)" Acts 11:25

As I reflect on those early believers, I realize that those who were called a follower of the Way, personally chose to be a follower of the Way. And it holds true today. No one makes you a follower of the Way, a Christian, a Christ follower. It's up to each individual person. Are you a follower of the Way?

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12)

Sunday, August 7, 2016

What I Learned From My Trip To Africa

Recently, my wife and I spent 3 weeks in Tanzania, Africa. My son and his wife are missionaries there, working with a Bible translation team, making Bibles available to those who have never had one in their own language. They have 2 children, a boy who is almost 3 yrs. old and a girl who just turned one. They've been in Tanzania 6 years, and they've come back twice - for the births of each of their children. 

We've visited there once before, in 2012. This time, we stayed for 3 weeks. It was a somewhat different experience this time - not so intimidating, and not so much culture shock. After all, it is a third-world country. And when you experience that for the first time as an American, it's intimidating. You wonder if you are safe, or if you will get sick, and if you will be able to communicate. This time, however, we didn't feel that way at all. Instead of feeling unsafe or intimidated, we were fascinated with the culture, and took it all in. Of course, it helps that our son and daughter-in-law speak fluent Swahili. And that they are very comfortable in the culture where they live. 

We had a great family connection time while we were there. And we came away believing that we have a good feel for how our son's family live, and the things they deal with on a daily basis. We also got a good taste of what the culture is like, as well as the climate and the geography. In many ways, we can see why they call Tanzania home. It's a beautiful place and the people seem warm and friendly. 

One night I got to sit around a campfire with my son and some of the missionary guys who are on the translation team. I asked a ton of questions about everything from life in Africa to their backgrounds to their area of expertise. All of these guys were amazingly talented in their field - linguistics, computer programming, Bible. They are excellent at what they do, and any of them would be in high demand in America. I had to ask myself what motivates them. 

Their motivation can't be money, that's for sure. They aren't paid by their missionary organization - they must rely solely on monthly donations, support that they raise. To them, the term "the Lord provides" is something that's real, and something they depend on. 

And their motivation can't be prestige or power. They certainly didn't choose to become missionaries to gain recognition or praise. Many of their team's accomplishments involving the translation of Bibles aren't widely publicized. Actually, they all tend to display humility. 

As we talked around the campfire, I realized that they all have somewhat of a spirit of adventure. They all agreed. Maybe a better description would be one of courage. 

These missionaries and their families sacrifice so much. For one, they sacrifice good health care. The closest hospital, at least one that you would dare to walk into, is a four hour drive on rough roads. And there is always the threat of malaria and other diseases. Some of the missionaries have had malaria, and they all accept the fact that they will probably get it sooner or later. 

Another big sacrifice is just being away from family and friends. They miss so many things like weddings, funerals, and family events. I'm sure they battle homesickness from time to time. All I can say is that I'm thankful for technology - the internet, texting, and video chats - so we can communicate with them. 

And they sacrifice the many comforts found in America, like air-conditioning, or stable electricity, or fast internet. We sat around one night and talked about things we liked about America. Here are some: the ability to brush your teeth with water out of the faucet. Water that actually comes out of the faucet. Water that comes out of the faucet that you can safely drink. No fear of malaria or yellow fever. Foods that are safe to eat. Good restaurants. Abundantly stocked stores. Doctors, nurses, and hospitals. Safety and security. The ability to call 911. And so much more. 

One time my daughter was in Starbucks here in America, talking about her brother in Africa who gave up a big house, a high-tech computer programming job, sold his car, and left everything to live in a third world country with his wife. The lady she was talking to was startled and said, "How could he do that!?" She couldn't understand why anyone would make such a move. And I suppose if you were not a follower of Jesus, and not in a personal relationship with Him, and not a faithful servant, you would not understand. 

So, what is the answer? What is their motivation to be missionaries in a third world country? It's got to be a strong feeling that God wants them to be doing what they are doing - where they are doing it - using their talents for Him. It's got to be conviction. It's got to be a commitment to their team and to the ministry of spreading God's word to people who have never had it in their own language. It's got to be a matter of faith, trust, surrender, and obedience. 

Bottom line...what I learned from my trip to Africa...missionaries are very special people. And I'm sure that's true in the Lord's eyes as well.

And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15)