So today we’re going to look at the last of four elements that we’re covering to explain how to love God, which is the first and great commandment, with our whole being. And that element is following God. We said we needed to trust God with our whole being if we want to have that love relationship with Him. And we said we needed to seek God with our whole heart. He seeks us, so the relationship has to be mutual. We have to meet Him. We have to keep seeking Him with our whole being all of our lives, just like He seeks us.
So we’re talking about this other element today – that of following God. How does that differ from seeking God? Well, once we find Him, then we need to go the same direction He is going. We have to follow Him. So following is important stuff.
Let’s go to Revelation 14:1 and let’s see how important that is. This is a section of a book written by the apostle John, who was transported into the future. It’s like getting a time machine and taking a trip into the future to see what’s going to happen. The time he is transported to is the time of Christ’s return to the earth. And he sees this powerful vision of what’s to come. It says in verse 1 of chapter 14:
Rev. 14:1 – And then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb. That’s interesting, isn’t it? We know the exact place that He is going to touch down when He returns. …and with Him, a hundred and forty-four thousand, who had His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists, playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne, and before the four living creatures, and before the elders. And no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. What does that mean? Well, illicit sex is a metaphor for going away from God and following the way of this world, And a virgin, in this context, is somebody who follows God – goes God’s way instead going the way of the world – instead of following his or her own instinct. And that kind of gets back to poverty of spirit, doesn’t it? We trust God to tell us what to do and to guide, instead of our own perceptions, our own instincts, our own hunches, our own gut feelings. Then it says – the rest of verse 4 – These follow the Lamb wherever He goes. So these people – this 144,000 people who are standing with Christ at His return – who are not defiled, it says: These have been redeemed from mankind as the firstfruits of God and of the Lamb.
Now this term redeemed and this term firstfruits have a very special meaning to God. Under Moses, people offered the first ripe crops to God, as He told them to. But if they wanted to use some of them – for food or for seed – they could buy them back. So they could take the crops, pay money, and get them back.
How are these 144,000 redeemed? Well, there was a very heavy price paid to make them blameless. It was the blood of Jesus Christ. These are the people who have repented of their sins and have been washed in the blood of the Lamb – who are now blameless. They have been redeemed back from the devil.
It says in verse 5:
V-5 – And in their mouths no lie was found, for they are blameless. Of course, you know all people lie. It says that in Romans 3:4. These peoples’ sins have been covered. It’s not that they’ve never lied. It’s that they have been forgiven of their lies and they are now blameless in God’s sight.
Let’s go back to the beginning of this passage a minute – verse 1.
V-1 – Then I looked and, behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb and with Him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads. So they had the names of the Father and the Son stamped on them. I don’t think that is literal. I think that is symbolic for something. I used to have a briefcase with my name on it. And that name meant that it was mine. That’s what this means. These people belong to God and to Jesus Christ. Why? Because they’ve been bought back. They were purchased with the blood of the Lamb. They’re now God’s.
There are two things about my briefcase. It went everywhere I went, so you could say it followed me. Of course, it was on my hand. And I took care of it, because it was expensive and it was mine. I’d paid for it.
So, in the Bible, the forehead symbolizes the thinking part of the brain. These people have made a conscious choice to belong to God. And when all these things begin to happen, blameless is going to become pretty important, isn’t it? That’s the state we want to be in when it all starts to become unraveled. Blameless is like a shield that protects these people from harm. I mean, you can read through the book of Revelation in less than an hour, and you can see what happens to those who are not considered blameless by God. And believe me, it is not a pretty picture. So, to be washed and blameless is to be protected. That’s what that means. God protects those people who follow Him. Important stuff.
So that’s why we know that loving God with our whole being is important, and why this aspect of loving God – following Him – is extremely important stuff. Early on in the series, we quoted Ruth, who said, “Wherever you go, I will go,” and that Ruth and Naomi were a picture of God and the church. Well, that’s how we’re supposed to be with God.
Okay, moving on. What is following? When you say, “Follow God,” what does that mean? What does it mean in everyday life? You know, there’s a lot to this, so we’re just going to have to summarize things. Let’s turn to Ezekiel 3:13 – very interesting scripture here.
Ezk. 3:13 – Thus says the LORD God, “Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing.” Have you heard people talk about how God told them to do this and that and the other? And you kind of have the feeling that maybe they just really wanted to do that all along? It isn’t just prophets that have this problem. We all do. We all want to follow our own inclinations, our own perceptions. We want to “lean on our own understanding,” as it says in the Bible.
I was overhearing Elaine talk to Skip Martin recently on our Festival telephone call. He was talking about some mainstream Christian people he knows, who have taken a serious look in the Bible and realized that Christ is not in Christmas or Easter. These are mainstream Christian people. And so now they simply observe the resurrection of Jesus and His birth without all the pagan trappings – trees, decorations, eggs, bunnies, all that stuff. And they do this because they believe that God is so great – so much greater than we are – that we don’t get to decide how to worship Him. He tells us what to do. So our spirit and our desires to please God and to obey Him, that’s all well and good, but it has to go along with what God already tells us to do. And you know, God blessed them for that attitude, because that is poverty of spirit.
But, you know, there is another step to take there, isn’t there? And that is to realize that there is not a single place in the Bible where we are told to worship God by observing His birth or His resurrection. It’s just not in there. If you don’t believe me, check it out for yourself.
There is something we’re told to observe that Jesus wanted us to observe – something that He told us Himself. He told us that we are to observe, every year, the day of His death. That’s what it says clearly in the Bible. It wasn’t just an Old Testament thing. Paul talks about it in the New Testament as well.
So we get to make a choice here, don’t we? We can “karate do, yes,” or we can “karate do, no,” but “karate do, guess so” just isn’t going to get it. What does it say in the Word? Are we going to do that or are we going to follow along behind a sheeple just ahead of us, who doesn’t know anymore about what God tells us to do than we do? We’ve got to look in the book! We are to follow the Word of God. That’s one of the main things that we’re to do.
Amy Grant made a gazillion dollars singing a song: Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a guide unto my way. Words right out of the Bible. And I think that’s there so that none of us really has any excuse. How hard is it to follow the Lamb when everyone else has gone off on a tangent? Everyone else has gone off on a tangent. Well, it’s so hard that when Christ’s feet touch down on the Mount of Olives, there will only be a 144,000 people there with Him who are repentant, who are washed, who are redeemed and who are blameless. Pretty sad number, isn’t it? I don’t know how many people will be left alive by the time He gets here, because we know a lot of really bad things are going to happen beforehand. Now, I know, it also says, there will also be an innumerable multitude who will also attain this state, but we are told that before they do, they have to go through terrible things – terrible things – in the book of Revelation – before they stop following the backside of some other sheep and start doing what Jesus says to do in the book.
There’s the hard way and the easy way to do this, too. Let’s look in Revelation 7 about that group of people I’m talking about – just so you know I’m telling you the truth. Okay? It says:
Rev. 7:9 – After this, I looked and, behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne, around the elders and the four living creatures. And they fell on their faces before the throne, worshipping God and saying, “Amen! Blessed in glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and power, and might be to our God forever! Amen!” Then one of the elders addressed me saying, “Who are these clothed in white robes and from where have they come?” A loaded question, to be sure. And I said to him, “Sir, you know” – and we might add, “And I don’t.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” But it took hell on earth before they could do that, because they were not willing to follow God until they went through these terrible things. It’s a choice we get to make – the hard way or the easy way – follow God and the Bible or follow religious tradition and other people’s wrong ideas about God.
By the way, which day do you go to church on? Why do you? What does the Bible say about it?
Moving on. Let’s go to James 1, verse 1. Some people have called the book of James the New Testament book of Proverbs. And that’s probably a pretty good thing to say about it. But there’s something interesting here. James identifies himself there in verse 1. He says:
Jm. 1:1 – From James – this is from James – a bond servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are scattered abroad. Oh, James is a bondslave. He knows he’s been bought. His life was not his own anymore. He traded for something. My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials. Pretty hard to do that, wouldn’t you say? Count it all joy when you are sick, and you are being thrown in jail, and you are whatever? …knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect – complete – lacking nothing. James knew that he was owned by somebody else, that he was redeemed, that his life was purchased by the Father with the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. And he knew that God had a job for him in this present life and that He was perfecting him through the experiences of his life for a higher purpose. Some of those experiences are going to be joyful and good and some of them aren’t. And because of this understanding, every morning when James got up, he knew that he had something to do. And some mornings he would know ahead of time what that was and sometimes he wouldn’t have a clue. But he knew that God would put it in front of him every day. And since he was a bondslave, he knew when those things came up, he had to do them, because that’s just what bondslaves have to do. They don’t get to decide what they’re going to do today. Maybe on some small scale, they do, but all of their stuff gets put on the back burner when the master comes and says, “I want you to come over here and do this.” Then that comes first.
What do you suppose that caused in James’ life? What do you suppose happened when some big trial came James’ way? Well, I don’t think he spiraled down into some blubbering mass of self-pity and resentment toward God because of all the hard things that happened to him. I think, instead, he’d try to get through the obstacle course that God put in front of him as best he could, hoping his efforts, along with God’s guidance and support, would carry him through. I don’t think that he complained a lot about it, because I think he knew he was a bondslave and that he signed on for whatever God had for him – good or bad. I’m sure he would ask, sometimes, “Did I do anything to bring this about?” And, of course, with us, the answer is usually, “Somewhat,” most of the time. Whatever happened, he knew that he didn’t belong to himself, because he made a deal with God that included giving himself up, because the benefits were worth the sacrifice. It is much better to stand before God in white robes washed, redeemed, blameless and protected than to be naked, and unwashed, and at the risk of losing eternal life. So he was a bondslave to Jesus Christ by choice. He followed wherever God went or sent him, like a good servant was to do – not following his own ideas about what God wanted, but what God wanted.
How about you? We’re talking about what it looks like in everyday life to follow God. When you get up in the morning, what are you thinking about? I mean, after coffee. No, some don’t drink coffee. Some of us might not do it in the future and that would just be what we do. Well, every servant gets his instructions for the day from the master.
We have an office here, adjoining our suite, that is rented by a building contractor. He rented that office, he told me, because his wife was tired of all the guys on his crew coming in at 7 o’clock in the morning to get their instructions for the day. So he rented this place and all his crew shows up in the morning, and he has all lined out what their supposed to do for that day. Do we line up to find out what we’re to do for the day? What does God want you to do every day? There are some things that we already know, because He tells us about things like that – like praying, studying the Bible. But then what? Well, I think, for me, a good bit of the time, it is a matter of detecting what He wants.
Some time ago, a woman came to my office, and she was telling me how angry she was with her husband. She wondered out loud whether she should leave him. She’d asked him to change the light bulbs on the porch, and he hadn’t done it. So this little light went on in my head – this didn’t take a lot of detecting ability, by the way. And I thought, “Oh, you want me to help her realize she needs to hang in there with him.” And so I said, “I don’t think you’re saying you really want to end twelve years of marriage just because he won’t change a light bulb on the porch. I think, maybe, there’s more about that than meets the eye for us here.” Three months later, she realized it wasn’t him. It was her. And once she resolved her problems, the fact that he wouldn’t change the light bulbs – because of the way she asked him – went away.
So, do we have chances to bring people closer to the ideal of God every day? Some do, some don’t. Or do we miss a lot of those chances? Sometimes, it’s just as simple as encouraging somebody that is down or smiling at somebody who is in a bad attitude. God says that each of us is one of His lights. Do we let it shine at home? At work? At church? At school? And when we’re driving?
I didn’t realize, until I became a counselor, how many people suffer road rage. I just drove obliviously down the street. Of course, I’ve had my own issues with that from time to time, but not like some.
Let’s think some more about following God. God has given you a gift. Do you know what it is? He tells us He gives us each a gift specifically for helping our congregation do its work. Oh, you mean our congregation is supposed to have work that God gives us to do? Have we detected what that is yet? Do you use your gift? Are you a servant? Well, you are. So He gives you some tools and He expects you to put them to use, right? Does He give you money and tell you some of it is to give to your church? Yeah, He does that. Do you do as He says? Do you visit people in prison? Do you help the homeless, and take care of the veterans, and love and attend to other people’s children? Those are all things He says His servants do. So when some kid pops up in front of you, you’re supposed to make a contribution there. When somebody is in trouble and needs help, we’re supposed to try to do what we can do to help. I’m talking about those people who can’t help themselves, by the way. So, when have we done these things?
When I was a pastor I occasionally had opportunity to visit people in prison. I was thinking about that – probably the worst one I ever went to was Tucker Prison in Arkansas. I remember I got scoped by a guard from the tower because I forgot to get permission to leave – an interesting experience – glad that’s over. I played softball with prisoners when I was a kid, because one of my friends…I think he was the assistant warden at a minimum security prison in Aviso, California. That was something we could do and that was something they enjoyed doing. The prisoners beat, of course, because we were just teenagers. I don’t get to go to prison too much anymore, but I do get to love other people’s kids more now, because of my job.
A while back, a mother brought her thirteen-year-old daughter to me and she was cutting herself. We were in session for a few times and then she found out that she was still doing it – her mother did. So she took the piece of glass away from her – that she was cutting herself with – and told her that she had to text me every time she wanted to cut. I don’t know where that came from, because I didn’t say that. But she was trying to deal with the symptom rather than the cause. She was trying to take care of herself, because cutting is designed to create huge anxiety in all the adults to get help. So this girl – after this event – is sitting in my office, tears running down her face, telling me that she doesn’t want to scare her mother, but she just couldn’t stop. It was like an addiction. And taking the glass away just made her think about kitchen knives, which, I’m sure, would drive her mother right up the wall, if she ever told her that. And the thought of texting me every time she wanted to cut seemed completely useless and totally restrictive. And she said, “Why do I do this? I just can’t stop.” So here’s my chance. I’ve been asked a question now. I’ve earned enough trust that she’s asking me what to do. So I explained to her that she did not have an addiction. Her body was not addicted to cutting. There was no substance going into her body. What she has is a compulsion, which is driven by an obsession, which is caused by anxiety. Obsessive-compulsive behavior is caused by anxiety. When we reduce that anxiety, then she’s not going to have to try to stop cutting anymore. She just won’t think about it. She said, “Well, how do we do that?” I noticed the we is already in there – we’re starting to connect up. And I said, “Well, we talk about it. We unravel it. We understand it. We figure it out. We face it. And as we do that, the anxiety isn’t as scary as it once was. We take the sting out of it. Pretty soon, we know what to do about it. And that anxiety starts to become manageable. And when that happens, you won’t be thinking about cutting anymore. Because you’ll have some other things that you can do and it won’t seem like a big deal.” And I said, “To do all that, you and I need to get to know each other, and to trust each other, and we need to be partners in this.” She just shook her head – nodded. She got it. So that’s me getting to love other people’s kids.
And other people do that, too. They just do it in different ways. They coach Little League teams. They go camping. They let their kids invite other kids along. They teach needle point or knitting or crocheting to kids. Or they have cookies and milk, but without advice or judgment. It’s just for fun.
It’s a pretty good rule of thumb that when we’re taking care of the human needs of other people, we’re also serving God. Some people think it’s a lot more complicated than that. That really isn’t what Jesus said. You know the sheep and the goats? It’s all about prisoners and taking care of people that need help.
What else is it? What else is following God? Let’s go to Leviticus 18. This is right at the beginning…. The New Testament church called itself the Israel of God. So there’s a lot to be learned about the church of today by looking at what happened with those people back then.
Lev. 18:1- Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘I am the LORD your God. According to the doings of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, you shall not do. According to the doings of the land of Canaan where I am bringing you, you shall not do, nor shall you walk in their ordinances. You shall observe My judgments, and keep My ordinances, and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. You shall, therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which, if a man does, he shall live by them.’”
So we’re not to follow the things of other gods or other nations, but we’re to follow God. Obedience is following God’s rules. Just one more way He wants us to follow Him in every area of life. You know, if you read farther down in this passage, you’ll find out that this quote from Leviticus is about following God’s sexual standards.
Now I heard a saying that some therapists say that, in therapy, there are really only three topics: God, sex and money. And that is certainly true, in a way. A veritable parade of people come through my office – who go to church every weekend – who are totally promiscuous sexually – and allow their kids to be so! It’s like Christianity and sexual behavior are two separate things, when, in fact, God says that, since sex is a part of life, that, too, becomes His when we become His bondslaves. So we get back to the hard way and the easy way once again. Are we going to “karate do, yes,” or are we doing “karate do, no,” or are we just doing “karate do, guess so?” “Karate do, guess so” is going to church on Sunday, but not doing anything else it says to do in the book – not letting God into every part of our lives.
You know, we can call ourselves Christian and not follow the rules, but we can’t be Christians without following the rules. And then there are those two groups there in Revelation. Which one, do you suppose, correlates there? The small one that repented and followed the Lamb wherever He went – followed all of His law, no matter what they were? Or the large one that had to go through hell on earth before they were willing to give up and be the bondslaves that they promised to be in the beginning?
Some people – when I started talking about following God rules – started building a wall of defense. Some people view the laws of God as rigid rules to be judged by. And we, certainly, in the church have certainly used them for that. They think they can earn their way into the Kingdom of God by following rules. But, really, God’s rules are principles that guide us into a loving relationship with Him – not that we earn anything by following Him. After all, we’re bondslaves. Following the rules is just what we’re supposed to do. It doesn’t earn us anything.
Still those people who follow God’s rules take them seriously and, in so doing, they grow into a close and loving relationship with God. And one day, those folks are going to find themselves at the throne of God washed, redeemed, blameless and protected, and they will not have had to go through tribulation. That’s the easy way. I hope I can take that easy way. I’m going to try to follow God and serve God and obey the things that God tells me to do in the Bible – not because that earns me anything, but because it’s a way to show love and gratitude to God for what He’s already done for me. And I hope that He’ll help me to do that with my whole being, because this is important stuff.
We need to love God with our whole being and one way to do that is by following the Lamb wherever He goes.