by - November 11, 2016

Over the past few months, I’ve traveled new streets, alleys, subways, stairways on mountainsides, beaches, and aisles in various places around Asia. I’ve walked beside friends who speak different languages, but are of the same heart, and walked past strangers with the only resemblance being our humanity. Smells of fish markets, sewage, incense and flowers; sights of tall buildings, small shacks, sweet smiles, blank stares, bright colors, and filth have all swirled around in my thoughts. We have been to places where women are treated like cattle and places where cattle are treated as gods. Some of these places are beautiful; others are barren. These contrasts of people and places are as consistent as the similarities.

Everywhere we go people are following. They are following their culture, their heritage, and their religious or non-religious ideologies. Some are following their passions, their educational opportunities, or their chance for freedom. No one is sitting still. Every person, even the lame and the beggars on the sides of roads are following whatever system has been laid before them. We like to think we are autonomous, but we govern ourselves within the concepts to which we have been offered. We all follow what we have been taught, what we have believed, or what we have experienced. 

In many of the places we have visited, people have been taught to follow various religions. Humanity is made to seek a purpose in life, and we seem to have a habit of creating to-do lists in the hopes of finding a good one. Some people seek everything but God, in a sort of protest to those they think represent him. There are so many life plans that could be followed. I’ve seen people who follow their ancestors into temples with images carved by man, where birds nest and desecrate, and where the god they serve is silent. People sometimes follow celebrities, prophets, and regimes. In many places, people have little choice but to follow the cultural or religious expectations of them based on caste, gender or birth order. People are often tempted to follow popularity as if popularity equaled truth and purpose. The plans for living and rules for religion are so drastically different. I could never comprehend, debate, or convince someone born in a reality so different than mine, rather they live in my state or on another continent, to view the world, or God, as I do. Thankfully, convincing is not my job. Sharing the message so that others are presented the same option I’ve been given and chosen, and represent that well with my life, is my job. Once the message is shared there is another voice there to convince, and my life is only one testimony in a very large ocean of testimonies. 

Here are two things I’ve found that strengthens my faith instead of proving it false in all these different places: 1) God’s Word is always proven true. 2) There is one common voice that can be heard above all the issues and expectations of this life no matter the location. It’s not a cool voice from the nightly news that resounds around the world. No government official, celebrity, or even preacher (except maybe Billy) has a voice that resonates across cultures and continents. The lives of people recovering from an earthquake, a woman rescued from slavery, a child who lost parents, the sick, the brokenhearted, the lonely, are not transformed by an enlightening or witty tweet. Those who met Jesus in their dreams chose to follow him, and are now desperate to keep their life don’t really have time to fight for their proclaimed right to take one. Issues do not unite us. Issues are like plays on a stage where the curtain will eventually come down. We can get so wrapped up in a scene that we forget to plan where we are going when it’s over. It’s good to get into the scenes where we live and work together, but issues are geographically and socioeconomically confined. They can be a temporal distraction from the eternal real issue for humanity: The Lord, Jesus. 

Jesus, true Jesus, comes with a voice that unites people across all boundaries, plans, and presumptions.  Respectfully, if you say that isn’t true then you haven’t been hearing him.  You have been listening to other voices.  Many say they represent his voice, but their hate, their selfishness, their complete disregard for his Word for the proclaimed sake of tolerance or kindness, proves their hearts otherwise.  Jesus teaches us to view the world as He does, and reveals to us more about who He is through his Word and one another. Following him is the only plan that has consistent relevance in the gutters of India, the high rises of Hong Kong, and I believe the streets of America. 

It’s amazing to me that people can follow him the same way in such different places, even though he did tell us in his Word that we would recognize his voice, follow him, and that he would know us (John 10:27).  It’s still amazing to see this similarity of purpose, this same path and shepherd followed, in pastors in the Himalayas of Asia and mothers in the Serengeti of Africa. It’s that voice that my friends on completely different continents, with completely different life plans, have heard.  This unity of vision and purpose and heart is miraculous. Many people I’ve met cannot even consider the Western concept of effecting change on their government or social standing through education or elections.  Where options are so few, things become so clear.  His voice has so much less competition.  Our human hope cannot be in anything that is irrelevant to some of us, or only applicable to a few of us. With all the exclusivity we see, only Jesus is all inclusive.  Respectfully, if you do not see that, you are looking at someone other than him.  He does expect us to follow him, though, as he spans all time and eternity, he sees the big picture of creation.  It is not supposed to be the other way around, no matter how entitled we may think we are. It takes faith to choose him.  Steps of faith can be hard to take, but he is faithful every time.  So then the next steps of faith are taken alongside experience.  The steps get easier and easier.  I can testify.

When I am tempted with doubt, when I wonder where he is, when others reject or ignore my value or yours, he is near.  He is near the souls I have met these past few months.  He loves the same, his Word is the same, and his voice is the same. That can’t always be said of those of us who follow him.  But, it can always be said of him.  He never changes geographically or socioeconomically.

Generations see either the blessing of those who follow the Lord or they see the depravity of those who do not follow him.  This has been told to us in his Word (Exodus 34:6-7 for instance) and confirmed everywhere I’ve been.  Which isn’t every-where, but, God has made the way for me to see 29 countries in these past 5 years with number 30 coming this weekend. I always pray to understand what He is teaching me, to share what I believe, what I’ve learned, what I’ve experienced. Our lives are not our own, they are for his glory. His blessing, as we follow him, is as constant as the removal of his blessing when we choose to disregard him. Many of us have seen that, too. He is the blessing and with him comes increasing joy, love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. Who you follow matters.  It matters today and tomorrow and the next tomorrow. Everyone is following someone.  Someone is probably following you.  Where are you taking them?

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