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It isn't "following" till you follow through...

A few months ago I had the emotional experience of dropping my oldest son, Bradley, off at his first year of college. As my wife and I walked out of his dorm room and back to our car for the drive home, I pondered how I could be so completely overflowing with pride, beaming with joy, and deeply heartbroken all at the same time. It is difficult to quantify, but any parent who has been there can relate. The whole thing made me nostalgic. I began thinking back about how the years really had flown by like the blink of an eye.

I reminisced all the evenings after work spent sitting on a white folding chair in a gym as he moved up the ranks in karate, eventually leading to his black belt. ( don’t wanna mess with him). But years earlier, I can still see his little frame and wide eyes as he prepared for his very first belt test. He had spent months learning all of the lingo and commands. He memorized detailed forms with bows and kicks, chops and turns. And here, before family and friends, he executed it all precisely. Everything was going great...until they brought out the boards and informed the students they would be breaking them with their hands. He had never done that before. In fact, he’d never even seen these boards. I held my breath as Bradley tentatively made contact, and it didn’t break. He hit it again and it didn’t break. He hit it a third time to no avail, when I saw him shake his hand in pain. At this point, his teacher stopped and taught a valuable lesson. She said, “I want to say something to everybody here. Our power is only ever going to be found in our follow through.”

She then demonstrated that if someone wanted to break a board, they couldn’t settle at contact to the board. They needed to hit through it. Afterward, she got down on my son's level asking, “Does that make sense?” He replied, “Yeah,” and then smashed it like a machine! Someone can know all of the lingo. They can memorize all of the commands. They can put on a gi and give every form and appearance of a martial arts master and still end up only hurting themselves and others, because it isn’t karate until you follow through. Following Jesus is exactly the same.

It can be all too easy for us to memorize commands in the Bible, to become fluent in the lingo of Christianese, or to adopt the acceptable outward forms of orthodoxy and think this is what it means to follow Jesus. We can assure ourselves that we talk, pray, and dress as a “good Christian” should. We can stream the latest trending worship song on repeat, affix a fish emblem to our car, keep a daily quiet time, or whatever else we believe adorns us in the garments of a thriving lover of Jesus. And yet, we could still exert our energy in a way that only hurts us and others...because it isn’t following Jesus until we actually follow through.

Here are 3 ways you and I can move past contact to a love that truly follows through everywhere we go:

Love must be sincere (See Romans 12:9).

The word ‘sincere’ in Romans (any-pók-ritos) means, “without a mask, beyond impersonating the role of a stage actor.” Love must go beyond impersonating a stage actor?!? Cue mic drop. It isn’t enough to mimic the masses, mindlessly following the ebb and flow of politically correct catchphrases. Love does not pander to polls or popularity, which are always and only about self. Love gets over itself.

When you love, you aren’t swayed by what others think because you are only thinking about the needs of the one you love. Love always chooses the person in front of you, unfazed by what the critics might say. It steps out from behind our masks and our keyboards as the real you in the real world. Love is wildly sincere.

Love must be sacrificial.

In a capitalist consumer society, we read Jesus’ words and often find them confusing or controversial because to obey them we must empty ourselves. For instance, when Jesus says, “forgive as I have forgiven you,” we ask in protest, “well, what about that person at my workplace who keeps making life miserable for everyone? Or my difficult neighbor? Or the family member whose addictions are breaking everything in our wake?” We put presuppositions and conditions on the amount of forgiveness we extend to another.

The reality of the gospel is that Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. We forget that He willingly laid down His life for your boss, that miserable neighbor, the addict, and the person who has positioned themselves as your enemy. And He did it for you and I too.

As the ones who have freely received this kind of love, there is no justifiable response short of freely giving it all away. For all of those lamenting how bad the world is getting, may I suggest to you that our greatest hindrance to revival isn’t all of the sin they’ve been holding, but the love that we’ve been hoarding? It is time for love that moves beyond theological and theoretical platitudes to becoming a people of theocentric (God-centered) presence. Agape love will never be experienced by the moral grenades we lob from a safe distance. It will require the radical yielding of our time, our talents, our treasures, and our touch in every place His Spirit leads. And we can do so deliriously, because we are the ones who already found a treasure in a field named Jesus for whom we’ve sold everything to follow. Those who know they are adored though they don’t deserve it are the very ones who are positioned to adore those everyone else calls undeserving. If it doesn’t yet cost, it isn’t yet love.

Love must be slow.

We live in the age of instant everything. Everybody is in a hurry and it's getting us nowhere. Love slows down. Slow love chooses to truly know people in all their nuances and complexities. It isn’t under pressure to publish generalized caricatured opinions. Slow love believes God is big enough to woo and win the heart of His kids and specializes in “covering a multitude of sins.” It lacks the capacity to view people as pet projects, which is patronizing at best and paralyzing at worst. I lament the scores of precious people I’ve met on emotional stretchers all along the road from well-meaning but ignorant Christian strangers who felt they’d earned the right to share all they knew before caring to know the person in front of them. We can do better. We must.

We do not need more training strategies for how to share our faith. We just need to slow down enough to actually see people the way heaven sees them and to pursue them the way the Father pursues them. When we do, I promise, there won’t be enough seats in churches to hold the beloved who’ve begun to find rest in their Father!

“Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children and walk in love” Ephesians 5:1-2

Love is Sincere. Love is Sacrificial. Love is Slow.

Walking as a “follower” of Jesus is simple, but it will cost us everything: we move past the sentiment of love to its substance. After speaking words of love, we follow through.


Adapted from the Upcoming Release, “En(d)titlement,” by Chuck Ammons. En(d)titlement releases March 2023.

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