Spirit Alive: The Challenge of Following Jesus


Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and beyond.

March 6, 2018

Food for the Soul:

Making Disciples of Jesus Christ Means Joining a Movement of Love... and Following the Way of the Cross

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'"

Matthew 16:24

There is no better time in the cycle of the Christian Year than Lent to be reminded of the very real challenge that is involved in following the Way of Jesus. Lent is the time when it becomes most clear that Jesus' invitation isn't simply about joining a congregation and coming to church on Sunday.

It involves something much more: It means that one has decided intentionally to follow a new way

of being and join Jesus' parade into Jerusalem during Holy Week...willingly confronting the powers that be, moving one's attention to those who live on the margins, learning how to love even if it leads to suffering, and letting the chips fall where they may.

I've often wondered about how awkward this invitation really is. "Jesus, could you please explain your invitation a bit more? Is there anything in the fine print I need to be aware of?"

Well, there is no fine print. It is all pretty straight forward when you read the whole story. And yep,it isn't an easy road. It isn't a rational decision. It isn't the path for the faint of heart...but instead it is a new way to be in the world for those who are willing to go deep enough to discover and open their hearts.

But it is the Way of Love that Jesus teaches and calls us to follow. It is a way grounded in compassion and empathy. It willingly stands up to injustice. And as a result, it opens, to those who chose to follow this path, a remarkable encounter with the Living God.

I find it interesting that Jesus' way is the Way of Love, the Way of the Cross, and the Way to God are all wrapped up together. You can't really separate one from the other according to Jesus, because all of them are about a deep and lasting relationship that is holy, divine, sacrificial, painful, glorious, and counter-cultural at the same time.

As a result, Lent always becomes a time for me to measure my own life in relationship to the path that Jesus willingly walks...which takes him to the cross and beyond. It reminds me that I'm

ultimately deciding to join Jesus' parade as it makes its way to the center of religious and political power that resides in Jerusalem...and to confront that power with values grounded in love, justice, peace, and compassion.

It is in Jerusalem that, as Marcus Borg reminds us, two parades run head-on into each other: one  parade involves the power and political, economic, and military might that enters from one side of the city...and another parade is led by a teacher riding on a donkey. One parade is about pomp and ceremony...the other is about a new way of living with others and being in the world. Which one are you willing to join? It is the essence of Jesus' invitation!

During Lent, I've read two wonderful books that I'd like to share with you that have helped me consider this question anew. I hope that they will provide you with new insight and a sense of challenge to re-consider what it means to follow Jesus in our own times.

In his amazing book, The End of Protest, Micah White reminds us of our own roots as Christians.

This is what White says: "In the beginning, Christianity was a revolutionary underground social movement that rejected the official religion, refused to accept that the emperor was a god, and spread beyond all borders. A Christian was distinguished by his/(her) refusal to sacrifice to pagan gods, which included the deified emperor. As Friedrich Engels observes, 'Christianity was originally a movement of oppressed people: it first appeared as the religion of slaves and emancipated slaves, of poor people deprived of all rights, of peoples subjugated or dispersed by Rome.'....For three hundred years Christians endured the outlawing of their religion and three waves of gruesome persecution....Keep in mind that thousands of Christians were eventually martyred in front of cheering arenas of spectators." White goes on to conclude that the social and political movements of the future will need to be grounded spiritually in ways that can lead to real transformation.

White's words are a challenge to those of us who are a part of the church today. And they raise a number of questions for us to consider:

  • Why was the Early Church so threatening to the Roman Empire?
  • Are we still this church today?
  • Are we following the Way that Jesus invited us into?
  • What is our place and role in the broken world that is unfolding before our eyes?

A second book may take you into a deeper understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, especially during this Lenten Season. It is Richard Rohr's wonderful, short volume Just This.

Here are a few wonderful nuggets from Rohr's book:

  • "The key to entering into the new social order described by Jesus is never a discovery of your worthiness but always a surrender to God's infinite graciousness. We are all saved by divine mercy-- no exceptions-- and not by any measuring principle whatsoever."
  • "The soul must walk through...suffering to go higher, further, deeper, or longer. The saints variously called such suffering deaths, nights, darkness, unknowing, spiritual trials, or just doubt itself."
  • "Jesus says, 'There's only one sign I'm going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah. (see Luke 11:29, Matthew 12:39, 16: 4). Sooner or later, life is going to lead us (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a situation that we can't fix, can't control, and can't explain or understand. That's where transformation most quickly happens. That's when we're uniquely in the hands of God. It's God's Waiting Room!...The genius of Jesus' teaching is that he reveals that God uses tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal and death itself, not to wound us but, in fact, to bring us to a Larger Identity....In such a divine economy, everything can be transmuted, everything can be used, and nothing is wasted-- not even our mistakes. This is God's ultimate and merciful recycling process."

Lent is a wonderful, important time to step back and re-examine Jesus' invitation for those of us who seek to follow him. It is a time to remember that there is a cost involved in doing this...and the price is our very lives!

Let us walk in the light of God's love,


Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It seeks to identify where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.



Lowell Greathouse
Lowell Greathouse is the Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church. He looks for places to find where the spirit is alive and help them grow in vitality and fruitfulness. Share with him at lowell@umoi.org