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New Year

“I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back, no turning back.”
As I write this “Daily Word,” we are hours away from the beginning of 2021. I suspect we all have New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps you have decided to lose some weight, or to exercise more and be more attentive to eating healthy foods. Perhaps you have decided to be a better correspondent or give more fully to the relationships in your life. We all make decisions–some of which can literally change our lives forever. Have you decided to follow Jesus?
That may seem like a strange question since the audience of most of these “Daily Word” reflections consists of St. Martin’s members and others connected to our beloved church family. That said, I think there is still reason to pause, think, and perhaps meditate and pray on that question for a moment. “Have you decided to follow Jesus?”
I am often struck by the descriptions given in the Gospel narratives of how the earliest followers of Jesus so fully responded to His call to “follow.” Matthew says at the beckoning of Jesus, Simon and Andrew “at once” left their nets and followed. Mark writes, “ once they left their nets and followed,” and goes on to say that James and John did the same “without delay,” while Luke says the first to follow “left everything and followed.”[1] If I am honest, I sometimes wonder if the decision was actually that dramatic and final. Did the turn to follow mean they never tinkered with turning back?
If you know your Bible, you know Jesus often grew frustrated that the first 12 often seemed to–as we like to say here in Texas–backslide. They, like you and me I suspect, struggled with sin, selfishness, ego and doubt. In the end, a few denied knowing Jesus, others ran away and, of course, one betrayed Him altogether. However, when the rubber hit the road, enough stuck with it to change the world. The fact that you have even opened this email today is the direct result that the first followers of Jesus did, in fact, follow and did decide to do so. Have you decided to follow Jesus?
By that, I do not mean just go to church (which is important), read your Bible (which is crucial) or say your prayers (which is essential). Nor do I mean you have decided to make a pledge (which we all should), or serve within or outside the Church (which is vital). These kinds of things are part and parcel of being a Christian, but the fundamental element in the Christian life is making a decision to follow Jesus.
There are many things that affect our decision to follow Jesus, but I suspect the quintessential mark of that decision is a willingness to put self aside in favor of Jesus. To go back to the point I made earlier, there is a kind of daily dying that intentionally frustrates the self so much that what bubbles out of us, eventually, is not the self at all, but Jesus (see Luke 14:26-27). The hard words of Lutheran pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer prove to be true the more fully we decide to follow Jesus: “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.”
Jack Wisdom, whom Dr. McBay has recruited to teach among us from time to time, reminds us that the Holy Spirit prompts the decision, but it requires more. “… we are the ones who must act, and we must do so by humbling ourselves, laying aside any delusions of self-sufficiency, trusting in Jesus’ work on the cross, and taking up the cross every day and all day long…”[2]
Have you decided to follow Jesus?
About 150 years ago, there was a great revival in Wales. As a result of this, many missionaries came from Wales, England and Germany to northeast India to spread the Gospel. At the time, northeast India was not divided into many states as it is today. The region was known as Assam and comprised hundreds of tribes. The tribal communities were quite primitive and aggressive. The tribes’ members were also called headhunters because of their social custom that required the male members of the community to collect as many heads as possible. A man’s strength and ability to protect his wife was assessed by the number of heads he had collected. Therefore, a youth of marriageable age would try and collect as many heads as possible and hang them on the walls of his house. The more heads a man had, the more eligible he was considered. Into this hostile and aggressive community came a group of Welsh missionaries spreading the message of love, peace and hope of Jesus Christ. Naturally, they were not welcomed. One Welsh missionary succeeded in converting a man, his wife and two children. This man’s faith proved contagious and many villagers began to accept Christianity. Angry, the village chief summoned all the villagers. He then called the family who had first converted to renounce their faith in public or face execution. Moved by the Holy Spirit, the man instantly composed a song which became famous down the years. He sang, "I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back.” He sang the verse three times.

Enraged at the refusal of the man, the chief ordered his archers to arrow down the two children. As both boys lay twitching on the floor, the chief asked, “Will you deny your faith? You have lost both your children. You will lose your wife too.” Yet the man sang these words in reply, "Though no one joins me, still I will follow. No turning back, no turning back." He sang this verse three times.

The chief was beside himself with fury and ordered his wife to be arrowed down. In a moment, she joined her two children in death. Now, he asked for the last time, “I will give you one more opportunity to deny your faith and live.” In the face of death, the man sang the final memorable lines, "The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back, no turning back." He sang his final verse three times.

He was shot dead like the rest of his family, but with their deaths, a miracle took place. The chief who had ordered the killings was moved by the faith of the man. He wondered, “Why should this man, his wife and two children die for a Man who lived in a far-away land on another continent some 2,000 years ago? There must be some supernatural power behind the family, and I too want that supernatural power.” In a spontaneous confession of faith, he declared, “I too belong to Jesus Christ!” When the crowd heard this from the mouth of their chief, the whole village accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.[3]

Why three times each time? Perhaps it was the villager’s way of sealing his decision to follow, of cinching the deal, so to speak. In the end, it meant death to self, but life in Christ. The decision he and his family made to follow Jesus changed the entire trajectory of his life. His decision, in a sense, invaded every corner of his being.

The call to follow Jesus remains, and our decision to do so should invade our lives as well. It may mean a kind of daily “leaving” our proverbial nets behind. Do you recall in the 1990s the acronym WWJD? A youth group leader at Calvary Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan, named Janie Tinklenberg, began a grassroots movement to help the teenagers in her group remember the phrase; it spread worldwide in the 1990s among Christian youth, who wore bracelets bearing the initials WWJD, a prompt to have teens ask, in virtually every situation they faced, “What Would Jesus Do?”

Deciding to follow Jesus is not something you only do in church. It is something you do in life, such that it creates a tectonic plate shift in your work, your leisure time, your personal habits and your casual and intimate relationships. Making such a decision is the most important choice you will ever make. It is more important than choosing a spouse, deciding to have children, picking a career or determining where you will live. The Scottish preacher, Francis William Boreham (d. 1959), wrote, “We make our decisions, and then our decisions turn around and make us.” How very true that is.

Have you decided to follow Jesus? Let me quote an unlikely source here–good old Theodore Roosevelt offered a deep truth about decision making. He said, “In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

Have you decided to follow Jesus? Among all the things you are considering for the year ahead, spend some time with this question. If you have decided to do so, give thanks to God Almighty that, through His Spirit, He has revealed to you “the life that is truly life.”[4]
If not, may I bid you to do so–to make that decisiontoday? Right now? Wait no longer. To quote the Gospels, "do so immediately, at once and without delay." Make a decision to sing–not just with your lips, but with your life–with the saints of old, with all that you are:

“I have decided to follow Jesus.
No turning back, no turning back.”
A Prayer
“O send Thy light and Thy truth, that we may live always near to Thee, our God. Let us feel Thy love, that we may be as it were already in heaven, that we may do all our work as the angels do theirs. Let us be ready for every work, be ready to go out or come in, to stay or to depart, just as thou shalt appoint. Lord, let us have no will of our own, or consider our true happiness as depending in the slightest degree on anything that can befall us outwardly, but as consisting altogether in conformity to Thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Henry Martyn of Cambridge, d. 1812.
[1] See Matthew 4:18-20; Mark 1:16-20 and Luke 5:2-11.
[2] Jack Wisdom, Breaking Good: Repentance as a Way of Life (Houston, Texas: Whitecaps Media, 2016), p. 119).
[3] Dr. P.P. Job, in “Why God Why” 
[4] I Timothy 6:19.
The Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr.
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