The (Almost) Impossible Paradigm: Following Jesus, Part 5

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Profits and Losses

A “profit and loss statement” explains Investopedia, “is a financial statement that summarizes the revenues, costs and expenses incurred during a period of time.” It explains that revenue (the ‘top line’), subtracts the costs of doing business, and ends up by stating the difference, known as net income (the ‘bottom line’). Very well. That makes sense, even to those of us who have no business savvy. In order to identify the bottom line we must account for costs necessarily incurred in the running of the business.

Can we transfer this template to the spiritual realm for a moment? Analogies are never perfect, but they can help clarify some hard-to-get concepts at times. Let’s try. Recall, we’ve been tramping through a segment of the Gospel of Mark. We’ve been listening in on Jesus’ interactions with townsfolk and observing Jesus mentoring His disciples in a practicum of sorts. Jesus has corrected His disciples’ misguided intuitions about entering the kingdom of God: the disciples are prone to ward off children in preference to welcoming the wealthy and powerful. Jesus does the opposite. It’s beginning to dawn on the disciples that Jesus is describing an almost impossible paradigm when He asks them to follow Him.

“We have left everything to follow you!” exclaims Peter, perhaps in more than a little exasperation. He’s referencing the ‘cost of doing business’ with Jesus and he hasn’t yet determined what that means in his own life.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions)…”

There it is. Jesus has expanded the boundaries of the cost of doing business with Him. He has listed comforts, relationships, and career. Following Him, He says, costs everything—everything a person has ever counted dear. He’s depicting it to show that it is an impossibly expensive paradigm by human standards. But wait. Without stopping for breath Jesus uncloaks next quarter’s revenue—next statement’s top line; it shows a revenue expanded a hundredfold. What?

One hundred times the joy of community family life, a 10,000% increase in the richness of relationships, the broadest scope of reach with an otherness perspective—all result from this core change of priorities. But don’t be misled. Jesus is not saying, ‘Put a twenty in the offering plate at church and you’ll get a $200,000 bonus from your employer at Christmas.’ It’s not hocus-pocus or a prosperity gospel that He’s offering. For one thing, you will have noticed Jesus has explained that with the expanded revenue comes an expanded cost in the form of persecutions. For another thing, He’s interested in developing the richness of character-based inner lives, not superficial material prosperity.

What Jesus is saying is that when we remove from first place in our hearts all those things and people that compete with our love for Him, and put Him first, He will fill our hearts with more than we are capable of having on our own: more love, more emotion, more appreciation, more thankfulness, more joy. The list goes on. He enables us to love our spouses more deeply, care for our parents more joyfully, raise our children more holistically, enjoy His creation more fully, and even participate in our careers with more authenticity than we ever could before. We no longer need to go in search of ever-increasing extremes of stimulation and adventure in order to find satisfaction in life. We are free from the bondage of the ‘bucket list.’

However, with this new outlook and inner transformation, we will also find ourselves clashing with the spirit of the world in a way we never experienced before. Culture that rejects the supremacy of Jesus is necessarily antagonistic toward His followers. History depicts the persecutions against Christians quite clearly. Even today, in countries around the world, followers of Jesus are targeted with varying amounts of antagonism, harassment, oppression and outright persecution. It is no surprise to Jesus, so let it be no surprise to us.

There is a cost to doing business with Jesus. This is why the rich young ruler, mentioned earlier in Mark’s gospel, walked away with a fallen face. He was unwilling to risk losing his material wealth for a less tangible reward. The disciples, too, had begun to recognize the cost, because Jesus does not (in accounting terms) ‘cook the books’ to hide it. And we must understand this cost for ourselves. Jesus is adamant. He wants followers that come to Him with eyes wide open. And as we accept the reality of the profits and losses that come with following Him—an almost impossible paradigm—He promises to fulfill our God-given ambitions: our deepest and truest hopes and desires. Now that’s an investment.

(Photo Credit: Paychex)

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WHAT TO EXPECT IF YOU MEET JESUS TODAY

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Part 3: Partnership

Contemporary leadership-training programmes have shifted their views on how leaders must lead. They’ve called for a major reversal; they’ve moved camp, pulled a u-turn, switched their modus operandi. Rather than lording it over their underlings, the modern leader now understands that collaboration is the key to leadership. Leaders must integrate and coordinate their most valuable resource, people, to create an organization-moving synergy. They could have come up with the idea sooner by watching how Jesus leads.

As Jesus introduces Himself to the first four disciples in Luke chapter 5, He sets the stage carefully. He draws a crowd, teaches them the word of God, takes an intermission to catch the disciples’ attention through a private miracle, and then makes His primary appeal. He invites the four into partnership. He summons them into God’s great business of life-transformation and gives them the vision, the objective, the holy grail of their role, saying, “from now on you will catch men.”

That’s how Jesus leads. It’s how He called all twelve disciples. It’s how He and they sent others out into the far reaches of the Roman Empire at the time. And it’s how what we now call the gospel has permeated throughout the planet. It’s about partnership.

Jesus is alive and well and fully capable of doing His work without His people. But for some divine reason He wants to include every generation of His followers to participate in this grand scheme of His to ‘catch men (and women, young and old)’. It makes sense, really. As our Creator, He has invested a fair amount of timeless creative energy into each of us. He has gifted us with unique abilities, one-of-a-kind combinations of mindset, focus, skills and perspective that make us exactly what He wants for His organization, no matter how little we have valued ourselves. And He doesn’t stop there.

Jesus is not only concerned about adding numbers to His association. He’s consumed by the idea of personal development for His co-workers. Unbelievable as it may seem, He directs all the profits of His business back into people in order to make them….perfect. It’s what the company is all about. The Father wants to create a place where individuals – you and I – become everything we were designed to be, and are able to fully enjoy relationship with Him and with our co-workers. That’s the vision in a nutshell.

But no one said it would be easy. The partnership Jesus calls us into is stimulating and life-changing, but it is also demanding. We are no longer masters of our own destiny, desires or decision – we have a leader whom we must follow at all costs, and His vision trumps our lesser ones. We also have guidelines to which we must submit the vagaries of our minds and bodies. We tend to be a capricious lot, a bit eccentric and unpredictable. We revert back to our own style of ‘fishing’ when our faith wanes. Jesus is pretty clear that He wants us to be transformed from the inside out and it will take His Spirit indwelling us, our own determination to learn from His Word, and a resolution, as partners, to follow His lead.

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, T.K. Naliaka)