Why Should We Follow?
Most of you know that I’m a child of the 80s. And that means that I’m old enough to remember a time when you could rent a VHS tape from Blockbuster, when you had to blow on the back of a cartridge to get your video games to work, and when you still had to get up to change the channel on your TV. So I’m a pretty big fan of 80s pop culture. That means that I love movies like Big, or The Goonies, or the Back to the Future Trilogy. I love TV shows like MacGyver, The A-Team, and ALF. I love cartoons like He-Man, The Thunder Cats, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And don’t get me started on the toys. I mean the 80s brought us everything from Teddy Ruxpin to the Transformers, from the Pound Puppies to the Popples, from Micro Machines to Moon Shoes.
But in my opinion, the coolest thing that came out of the 80s – other than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – was the Nintendo. Now there were over 700 different video games that you could play on the Nintendo, but for my money, the best games were the Super Mario games.
For those of you that don't know, Mario is an Italian plumber who lives in the Mushroom Kingdom. But unlike most plumbers, Mario doesn't spend his time snaking drains or installing sinks. Most of the time Mario is fighting with mushrooms and turtles to save a princess. And as simple a concept as that seems to be – hero rescuing princess – for an 8-year-old it was a really hard thing to actually do.
So when I was a kid, I would spend hours playing these Super Mario games. And I was always so excited to get started. And I played the games so much that I knew exactly what I needed to do so I’d work my way from one level to the next stomping on bad guys, collecting coins, and raising flags.
But no matter how many times I played these games, somewhere along the way I’d always forget why I was playing the game. And instead of moving forward to save the princess, I’d get caught up in collecting all the coins, or trying to find one of Mario’s special powers…and let me tell you Mario had some pretty cool special powers, I mean that dude could turn into a flying raccoon.
And it never failed that once I got distracted from the purpose of the game, it didn’t take long before I found myself stuck, and unable to move forward. And when that happened there was only one thing I could do: all I could do was reach over and hit the reset button on the front of the Nintendo...and then I could start over.
And the same thing happens in our relationship with God. When we start following God we’re so excited, and we think we know exactly what we need to do to follow God. So we spend time reading our Bibles and praying. We show up every time the church doors open. We volunteer and do whatever we can to show our love for our neighbors.
But before long life starts to happen…and we forget why we started following God in the first place. We get busy at work, and run out of time to read the Bible. We have to take the kids to soccer practice, so we miss a few church services. We want a little “me time” on the weekends, so we give up volunteering.
And before we even realize what happened...we get stuck. And we don't know how to move forward in our relationship with God. And when that happens, we need to be able to hit the reset button and start over from the beginning.
Right now, we’re in a season in the life of the church called Lent. And Lent is kind of like a reset button for our faith. The author Sarah Parsons explains that Lent is a time when we:
look at our lives and ourselves, not so we may criticize ourselves more harshly but so we can identify the obstructions that keep us from God. Lent gives us a chance to look at such obstructions and to move them gently away so that we can come closer to the one that gives us life, the one whose triumph we will celebrate on Easter morning.
So what Parsons is saying here is that Lent is a time when we admit that we get distracted from following Jesus and that we need to hit reset so that we can start over from the beginning. And when we go back to the beginning, we can remember why Jesus call us to follow him to begin with.
And you know that’s something important that we all need to remember. And we need to remember that because we’ve spent the last few weeks talking about what it means to follow Jesus. And over the last few weeks, we’ve seen that following Jesus means that we make Jesus the first priority in our lives. It means that we have to put our faith into action and serve other people. It means that we love other people and ourselves the way that God loves us. And it means that we produce godly fruit — like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control — in our lives.
But even though we’ve spent the last five weeks talking about what it means to follow Jesus, we haven’t really talked about why we should follow Jesus. I mean, if following Jesus means doing all of these things, then there has to be a good reason why we should want to follow Jesus, right?
So why should we follow Jesus? Well, I already told you, to answer that question we have to go back to the beginning…and I meant it.
To answer that question we have to go back to the book of Genesis. Genesis is the beginning of the Bible – it’s the very first book – and that’s why we call it Genesis. The word “genesis” means “beginning.” So inside the book of Genesis, we’re going to find stories about beginnings.
In Genesis 1, we’ll find a story about the beginning of creation. In Genesis 2 – which we’ll be reading this morning – we find a story about the beginning of humanity, and we’ll learn why God created us to begin with. So if you’ve got a Bible close by go ahead and grab it and turn to Genesis 2. Genesis 2 and the story I want us to look at picks up in verse 4, where we’re told:
4 On the day the Lord God made earth and sky— 5 before any wild plants appeared on the earth, and before any field crops grew, because the Lord God hadn’t yet sent rain on the earth and there was still no human being to farm the fertile land, 6 though a stream rose from the earth and watered all of the fertile land— 7 the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life.
Genesis 2:4-7 (Common English Bible)
In these four verses, we hear where we, as people, come from. We hear that we’re not some cosmic accident. We hear that we didn’t just appear. We hear that we’re not just a compilation of cells.
Instead, we hear that we come from God. And we don’t just come from God. We also hear that God formed us from the topsoil of the fertile land and breathed life into us. We are formed by God. God made us with his own hands.
And whenever I hear that we are formed by God’s own hand, I can’t help but think about all the times that I used to sit down and play with Play-Doh with my daughter. And whenever Hannah and I use to sit down to play with Play-Doh, we weren’t just making a mess. We were playing with a purpose.
You see, Hannah always wanted her daddy to make things for her with Play-Doh. Sometimes she’d want me to make a cat or a dog, or sometimes it’s a giraffe or an elephant – but I could never convince her to just let me make her a snake. But whatever it was that she asked me to make, I had to spend a little bit of time thinking about how I was going to make it.
When she wanted an elephant, I had to think about how I was going to roll the Play-Doh out to make the torso of the elephant. I had to think about how I was going to shape the elephant's ears. I had to think about how long the trunk was going to be. And then I worked meticulously to make her an elephant – because my daughter could be a pretty harsh critic, and she wouldn’t hesitate to say, “That doesn’t look like an elephant.” And she’d want me to start all over.
And this is what I imagine it was like when God made you. God sat down and thought about exactly how to make you. God thought about how tall you’d be, or how short you’d be. God thought about what color your hair and eyes would be. But that’s not all, God thought about what you would like and what you would dislike, what you would be passionate about, and what you would be indifferent to.
God thought about exactly how he would make you who you are because God knew the world needs you. And then God went about the meticulous work of making you into exactly who you are. And God got it just right when he made you. Let me say that again, because you may have never had anyone tell you that before.
God got it just right when he made you.
That’s why in one translation of Ephesians 2:10, the apostle Paul – who was the foremost missionary and theologian of the first century AD – wrote, “You are God’s masterpiece.” Now think about that for a minute. You are God’s masterpiece.
Has anyone ever called you a masterpiece before? Maybe you’ve had somebody tell you that you’re a real piece of work…but I’ve never had anyone tell me that I’m a masterpiece. But that’s what God says about me, and that’s what God says about you.
And since you are God’s masterpiece, since God formed you with his own hands, God knows why he created you. And, as we continue reading in Genesis 2, we’ll see why that is. In Genesis 2:8, we’re told:
8 The Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east and put there the human he had formed. 9 In the fertile land, the Lord God grew every beautiful tree with edible fruit, and also he grew the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
And skipping down to verse 15:
15 The Lord God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it.
Genesis 2:8-9, 15 (Common English Bible)
What these verses tell us is that God didn’t just create you with his own hands for no good reason. God didn’t make you because he was bored and had a little time to kill before his next Zoom meeting. God made you on purpose for a purpose.
God made you on purpose for a purpose.
In this passage, the human was created to farm and care for the land. But, obviously, that’s not something we’re all created to do. And that’s a good thing because I’m the kind of guy that could kill an artificial plant. So if God wanted me to farm and care for the land, everything would be dead.
So God isn’t merely calling the human he just created to be a farmer, God is calling this person to care for what God has just created. And that means that God created you to join in his work.
God created you to join in his work.
Now, think about that for a second, God created you to join in his work. God didn’t just make you with his own hands. God didn’t just breathe life into you. God created you to join in his work.
Now, when I was a kid, I had a great uncle who was an amazing woodworker. He had a big ole shop out behind his house with more tools in it than the Home Depot. He had jigsaws and bandsaws. He had planers and jointers. But my personal favorite was his lathe.
For those of you that don’t know, a lathe is kind of like a rotisserie for wood – it’s a tool that spins a block of wood around in circles. And a master craftsman can take a chisel to that spinning wood and turn it into an intricate table leg, an impressive baseball bat, or – in my uncle’s case – a solid wood casing for an ink pen.
I loved watching my great-uncle work when I was growing up. Whenever we went to visit family I couldn’t wait to go to his shop, pull up a stool, and see what he was going to create next.
And then one day, when I was about ten years old, my great-uncle asked me to join him in his work. So he pulled my stool over beside the lathe. He placed the chisel in my hands and guided my hands toward the wood as it spun in circles. He helped me slowly move that chisel up and down that block of wood until little by little the wood was carved away and an ink pen casing began to form.
And in my mind, that was the coolest thing ever. My great-uncle invited me to help him with his work, and together we created something amazing. And that’s what God does for you. God created you to pull up your stool and join him in his work. And God knows that together the two of you can do something amazing.
But why? Why did God create you? Why does God want you to join in his work? For the same reason that God did it all in Genesis 2. In verse 16 we’re told:
16 The Lord God commanded the human, “Eat your fill from all of the garden’s trees…”
Genesis 2:16 (Common English Bible)
God created you on purpose and for a purpose because God loves you and God wants the best for you. In this verse, God wants the human to eat his fill. In John’s account of the life of Jesus, Jesus – who is God made human – says, “I have come that you may have life, and that you may have it more abundantly.”
God created you to have an abundant life. God created you so that your life would be full of life. God wants your life to be full of hope, peace, joy, and love. God wants your life to be filled with purpose and meaning. God wants your life to make a difference. And God knows the only way for your life to be this abundant – this full of life – is if you follow him.
So, yes, following God demands a lot from us. Following Jesus means that we make him our first priority. Following Jesus demands that we love others and that we love ourselves. Following Jesus demands that we produce godly fruit in our lives and that we serve others.
But following Jesus is worth it. Because when you follow Jesus you get to become who God created you to be, you get to do what God created you to do, and you get to make a real difference in our world.
Jesus is asking, will you follow me? But you have to decide.