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No Looking Back

Today, we are blessed to hear from our own Frank Figueroa, Jr., as he shares his heart and some of the lessons he's learned over his past year of full-time ministry with Reasons for Hope. Join us today as Frank challenges each of us to trust God completely and "press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14).
As many of you know, April and I started a new adventure a year ago.  And when I say new, I truly mean new!  Being born and raised in Hawaii, I never imagined using a snow blower in -26 degrees, driving 35,000 miles in a single year, or the inability to find Aloha shoyu as a condiment that I could use for almost any meal.  But such is the ministry.

Luke 9:57–62 NKJV

Now it happened, as they journeyed on the road, someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.”
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”  
But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”
And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”
But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Some people embrace this call.  Others refuse.  But since Christ found me, I have learned never to say, “No, Lord.”  As we see here, when Jesus called others to follow Him, He often just said, “Follow Me.”   The word “follow” in Greek is akoloutheō  . . . It means “to imitate or to follow the leader.”  In short, it means to be a disciple and do whatever the master has done.  And whenever He used this verb, He used it in the present imperative tense. What on earth does that mean?  
Jesus was not seeking a momentary following of “convenience and contribution,” but a continuous, lifelong servitude of commitment . . . Because there’s a difference between convenience and commitment.  This reminds me of a humorous story:
A pig and a chicken were walking along a highway when they saw a billboard advertising good breakfast foods. Depicted was a large plate containing ham and eggs, with two pieces of toast alongside. The ad boldly stated, “Eat a wholesome breakfast every day," and was sponsored by a local food co-op in the area.

The chicken turned to the pig and said, “Isn’t it wonderful that we can help so much in providing healthy meals for humans?" The pig quickly responded, “Well, that seems easy for you to say. After all, yours is just a contribution . . . mine is total commitment!”
If I can be so bold . . . Jesus wants 100% total commitment, not half-hearted service when it’s convenient!  This is a hard pill to swallow; the passage we just read indicates precisely that.  Notice that it illustrates three things that hinder people from following Jesus.

1. Putting Personal Comfort First

And if I am honest, I have never realized this more than now.
During the past year, April and I have been “home” for no more than 5–6 weeks.  Like most people in Hawaii, I used to love to travel.  But now, even though we’re on the road with the absolute privilege of sharing the gospel and seeing people’s lives permanently impacted, I absolutely miss the comforts of home.  And when I say “home,” I’m not talking about living in a location like the beautiful state that I used to reside in, but I’m speaking to the solitude and rest that can provide comfort only the way a personal place of respite can bring. 
  • Sleeping in my own bed. 
  • Eating my favorite meals that I’ve prepared. 
  • Not having to say anything or be anywhere. 
But Jesus understood this when He said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20 NKJV).
Matthew 8:19 mentions that the man Jesus was speaking to was a scribe. Since he was an intelligent man, he should have easily been able to figure this out . . . Me, not so much.  So, what did Jesus mean by this?
Foxes were common in Israel; therefore, they had holes all over the place to sleep in.  Birds were equally as common, and they had nests to sleep in . . . But the Son of Man (the Messiah and God incarnate) had nowhere to lay His own head.  In other words, the Creator had fewer creature comforts than the animals He had created!  The passage right before this (Luke 9:51–53) tells us that the Samaritan village He traveled through would not receive Him, even though He just cast out a demon there.
Self-denial can be a barrier to absolute commitment.  But Jesus can help us overcome that because He had victory over it.

2. Putting Person Riches Above Kingdom Treasures

Another hindrance can be the financial stress that comes along with following Christ.  As a Christian, I take seriously the mandate for the husband to be the provider for his family.  And if I’m honest, this has always been a personal challenge concerning trusting God’s absolute provision.  My bride and I are used to living in one of the top two most expensive places to live in our nation . . . Honolulu, Hawaii.  When the cost of milk is $10 a gallon, and a simple home is averaging over a million dollars, you learn to be frugal.  We also chose to work in two professions that we knew were not the most lucrative.  A private school teacher and a pastor don’t exactly “bring home the bacon.”  (Do you like how I tied that into the funny story I mentioned earlier?) 😊
But with this move into a different form of ministry, we both knew we had to do it as a team.  So, we went down to a single income to plan for this transition.  But you know how that goes . . . unexpected expenses.  The items you budgeted for cost much more with the changing economy, so when an unexpected event occurs, you must redirect finances to that.  All this stress can wear you down, so you try your best to prepare.  But is there a point where preparation becomes over-preparation? And just what do I mean by that?

Today, I ask you to trust the Lord with EVERYTHING, even as I remind myself to do the same.

Notice that in our passage, Jesus turned to another man, who had probably overheard His conversation with the first one, and challenged him with His usual “Follow Me.” But even this guy had a “condition,” so he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  This seems reasonable, and many have tried to make Jesus out to be an ogre when looking at the exchange at first glance.
The problem with the man’s excuse was that his father was not yet dead!  How do we know this?  Since the Jews did not embalm, Jewish custom dictated that burial occur immediately after death.  To illustrate this, we know that Lazarus was buried the same day that he died (one day for the messenger from Mary and Martha to reach Jesus, Jesus delayed two more days, then arrived on the fourth day to find that Lazarus had been buried four days earlier)  Also, both Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5)  were buried immediately after they died.
This man was really saying that he wanted to delay following Jesus until AFTER his father died, which would mean that he would have possibly received his inheritance.   So to be clear, we do not know if it was primarily the inheritance or the relationship with his father that was more precious to the man than following Jesus. What we do know, however, is that he was not willing to leave everything and follow Jesus!  How do we know this?  Because Jesus is addressing it here!
Today, I ask you to trust the Lord with EVERYTHING, even as I remind myself to do the same.  Is the Lord God our Father and our Provider?  If so, then we can trust Him to meet our every need.

3. Putting Horizontal Relationships Above the Vertical Relationship

The last distraction Jesus mentions can come from putting earthly relationships before our heavenly one.

A third person there turned to Jesus and told Him he also desired to follow Him.  But he also had a prerequisite:

Luke 9:61–62 NKJV

And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”
          But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

This guy had only one request, which seemed reasonable enough―he wanted to delay joining Christ long enough to go home and say goodbye to his loved ones.  But once again, the problem wasn't the action but what was in his heart!  His family meant more to him than Jesus!   Jesus knew that if he returned home, he would never be able to leave.
I understand this all too well.  I have a very small extended family―my parents and my sister.  Once  I decided to be on the road as an apologetics speaker, these family members have experienced severe tragedy. My sister lost her husband, whom she adored, and has had to pick up the pieces as a single mom trying to do her best to carry on one day at a time.  My mom was diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing treatment even as I write this.  Not being there for them as I once was causes my heart to ache daily.  Don’t get me wrong; I am incredibly fortunate to visit them a couple of times a year.  But when you have interacted in person with each other every week for decades, you are left feeling kind of empty when the visits are so spread out.
Even as I write this with tears streaming down my face, Jesus is the one that is filling my emptiness in a way that only He can.  What Jesus meant when He said, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God,”  is that we must be dedicated entirely to the task at hand!  How can we plow straight if we constantly look back at what we’ve left behind?  To put it in the simplest terms: It is impossible to follow Jesus with a divided heart.

How can we plow straight if we constantly look back at what we’ve left behind?

The Bible does not describe what happened to these three men, but they were probably like the rich young ruler and decided not to follow Christ to hold on to earthly things.  How do we know this?  Because their examples were all written from a negative perspective.  (I genuinely hope that my legacy will tell a different story.)  To bottom-line it, those of us who are unwilling to follow Jesus because we do not want to part with something―comfort, riches, or relationships (or anything else for that matter) will not see everything God has for us.
Remember what Jesus said in Luke 9:23–24?  “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it."
If we are committed to following Him, then we must be willing to follow wherever He will lead us―no looking back.

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