“Then he said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.’” Luke 9:23 (New Living Translation)
Racing. It’s my thing. Sure, I enjoy stick and ball sports, but, for as long as I can remember, I have loved the speed, sound, and competition of motorsports. If you have a difficult time believing me, just ask my wife, daughter, or parents. Stop by my office sometime or peruse my page on Facebook and you will discover pretty quickly I have a passion for racing. Some of my earliest memories include watching or listening to race broadcasts with my daddy. I always looked forward to Thursday’s mail as a child because it often included our bi-weekly racing paper. Talk about being upset if it was off by a day! I have been to events, bought the t-shirts, and have always been able to tell someone who drives which car number, make, and sponsor. By this point, you may be thinking it sounds more like an obsession than a hobby, but, in recent years, I have mellowed (slightly).
In writing this, it is not my aim to convince you of my enthusiasm for motorsports. I am not even trying to convince you that it is the greatest sport under the sun. I would like to invite you, however, to consider what I have just written and also what is missing. I like racing; that is a given. I have more than enough “merch” (today’s term for souvenirs). I have bought tickets, been rained upon, and even roasted in the heat. I have cheered as one of my favorites won and felt the agony of defeat when one of them lost. Am I a fan? You betcha! But…something is missing. I have never actually raced. I have never owned a team, put sponsorship dollars into one, or burned the midnight oil to prepare a vehicle. I have been an outsider essentially. I have lost no sleep, never been injured, and have not had a single dime enter my bank account from on-track success. I am no racer. I am an enthusiast. I sit in the stands or in front of the TV, but racing doesn’t require any real commitment from me. I watch as others do the work, spend their money, and risk their lives.
This is a matter with which our teens are wrestling on Wednesday evenings. No, not a love for motorsports, but rather the difference between being a fan of someone or something and truly knowing and participating in a relationship with someone. In this case, the someone is Jesus. Back in 2012, Kyle Idleman penned a book and accompanying Bible study entitled, Not a Fan.: What Does It Mean to Really Follow Jesus?. It begins by posing the question, “Are you a follower of Jesus?”. While that may seem a bit elementary at first reading, Idleman indicates it is an often-neglected question or one to which many church attendees reply with an abrupt, “Yes!”. Chances are pretty good that you, like me, have answered this question in the affirmative. We presume that going to church services, reading through the Bible, or even having a Jesus bumper sticker equates to knowing and serving Jesus. Of course, this brings to mind the parable told by Jesus in Matthew 25 concerning the “Sheep and Goats.” Both groups of people have the appearance of belonging to Jesus, but their lifestyles, attitudes, etc. suggest otherwise. Much to both groups’ surprise, one is rewarded and the other turned away for condemnation. It would appear one group was satisfied with knowing Jesus on their terms and having a low-risk, limited commitment relationship (i.e., being fans).
The fact is, it is much easier to be a fan of Jesus rather than a follower. The reason being is that following Jesus calls for actions consistent with the ministry of Christ. It comes with a cost rather than a series of guarantees for how good one’s life will be. Jesus’ teaching concerning the Kingdom of God as well as the demands of discipleship were honest, perhaps even what some might consider “rough around the edges.” If one wants to win friends and influence people, then he or she should probably avoid the way of Jesus. Free, easy, comfortable are the language more and more people speak (even within the Church), but it is not the language of being a follower. Following Jesus will prove unsettling to our normal routine and run against the grain of what we prefer to do and be with our lives. As Idleman states in his book, Jesus doesn’t want to give our lives a “tune-up” but rather a complete “overhaul”. This was the invitation extended to various people throughout Jesus’ ministry, one which was met with sadness (Mark 10:22) and statements concerning its difficulty (John 6:60). I write this not to discourage you, but in order that we all might do some honest soul-searching. Do we want to admire Jesus or follow him with our lives?
Together in the Search,
The Reverend Kelley Smart