Praying til Pentecost Day 39
"What is that to you? You follow Me!" John 21:22
Every generation tries to give new meaning to ancient words. When generations clash, the sparks usually fly around any change to venerable vocabulary. The surest sign of age taking hold in a persons life is their anger level at the introduction of new words to describe old beliefs. On the other hand, the clearest picture of an aging "hipster dufus" is the constant effort on his part to remain hip by patronizing the younger generation with his adept use of their language.
I remember trying to convince an aging pastor that he could no longer tell the young ladies of the church that he couldn't wait to "make love" to them. He was shocked, embarrassed, and not a little angry when I informed him what the words had come to mean. He had been a pastor of the same church for 42 years, and his intentions had remained honorable to the end. It was the meaning of the words that had changed, not the content of his character. It was a difficult encounter for both of us, and I still get a tightness in my chest thinking about this lesson in changing vocabulary.
In the past three years, I have become a fan of the Turner Classic Movies Channel. I have to admit that I need a glossary of terms to understand some of the lingo. When the old gangster movies roll out the thirties and forties jive talk, I find it quaint and a bit disturbing. Every generation thinks they were the first to discover a unique language. Listening to Cagney, Bogart, Robinson, and the rest of the gang using such rough and unknown tongues makes me laugh. "You dirty copper!" has really lost its sting over the years.
There are buzz words that come and go in every generation. Some have the shelf life of a bag of "Twinkies." Others have the life expectancy of a fruit fly. While they remain, they are marks of "with it" people. In junior high I remember there was a word, "JUSTICE." I don't know when it invaded the halls of Gaston Junior High in Dallas, Texas. I was not privy to the original unveiling or the press release of its definition. I just recall that it could be used as a response to almost anything. Shortly afterwards, it was replaced in Bryan Adams High School with, "RIGHTEOUS!" When someone gave you good news or you saw something you liked, the proper response was, "RIGHTEOUS!" Another phrase that marked the late sixties was, "RIGHT ON!" It was meant to voice agreement, and encouragement. Who can forget, "AWESOME, DUDE, TOTALLY, WHATEVER, CHICK, PSYCH, WOMEN'S LIB, THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT, IT NOT MY BAG, and many others expressions that have marked the hipster from the dipstick.
The church is not immune from the invasion of a new vocabulary. Today it is not enough to call oneself a Christian. That ancient word is no longer clear enough to point people to what you are saying about yourself. Now a person must be called a "Christ follower." Don't get me wrong. Actually, I like this expression. In 1960 I was a Southern Baptist kid growing up on Long Island, New York. To be a Christian in that culture simply meant that you were NOT Jewish. It is probably not a bad thing for the church to take a periodic review of its vocabulary and see if what they are saying is understood by the people around them.
The changing of words does not necessarily mean a changed life or a change in conditions. The doomed people on the "Titanic" could have spray painted "Unsinkable" over the name plate of the ship, but it was still going down. When denominations and churches change their names, they would be wise to make sure a substantive change is taking place along with the stationery.
The Risen Christ did not change his vocabulary for His followers. He pointed them to their roots. The first words Jesus spoke to the men he called to be His disciples, "Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men." (Matthew 4:19) His last words spoken to the same men on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. "Follow Me!" had to be a flash back to their first response to the same words they heard from Him three years earlier..
The words "follow me" mean today what they meant then. Jesus still says to His followers, "Accompany Me, join Me, walk with Me, come here after Me." Fellowship with Jesus is still all about "followship." It is not enough to take on the title of "Christ follower." From generation to to generation there must be evidence of the time spent actually following Christ.
How much time are we talking about here? The answer is based on how much of a difference do His followers want Jesus to make in their lives. Peter wanted to make sure that he would not be called to do more than the guy next to him. The Risen Lord rebuked Peter when he asked, "What about John?" Jesus called Peter to follow Him regardless of what was asked of John or anyone else. Christ followers are always focused on the sense of direction that only Jesus can provide. They are not influenced by the Christian celebrity of the moment or the book of the month. They take their marching orders from "The Way, The Truth and The Life." They focus their eyes on Jesus and move toward the sound of His voice. This journey begins with a first step, but it is not so much about a destination as it is about a destiny.
Practicing His Presence is still the best way to follow Jesus. His Spirit provides His Presence. "Praying til Pentecost" is not a mere fifty day journey. It is a call to a life time of followship. Praying prepares our hearts for a life time of waiting on God, and following His Son.