Not A Fan

Tonight was the capstone to our “Not a Fan” journey. Well, at least for some of us.  The rest of the church finished up a week ago on Wednesday night while I was away at FLAME.  Tonight, like we did a week ago, we showed the full-length film “Not a Fan – A Follower’s Story.” In hindsight, we should have led off the series with the movie and then moved to the small groups, but tonight was a great recap of the series.

What were some of my takeaways?

  • There was a segment in the movie where Eric has suggested that his daughter help him at “The Center.” From what I can tell, this is some type of a homeless shelter/mission.  Eric’s daughter, Natalie, is struggling with the residents/clients of the mission, especially one particular client.  The client, a young woman, didn’t want to be there.  I’m sure her attitude is the same as many of our would be if we have to be at a shelter.  After a particularly heated exchange, Natalie tells her father that she won’t do it and she is completely frustrated.  During this exchange, she says that she doesn’t want to be seen as a fake.  Eric also asks Natalie, if she knows the woman’s name.  Natalie doesn’t understand the value in this.  The question is “What separates the real from the fake?”  Eric answers, “Love.”  It’s often been said that people don’t care how much we know, until they know how much we care.  One of the ways that we can show we care is by knowing people’s names.
  • One of the other verses that came out of the film is from Jesus’ exchange with the Pharisees when they ask what is the greatest commandment.  Jesus says that we should love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength and the second is like it that we should love our neighbor as ourselves.  These are also important words to remember.  One of my favorite verses from James 1:27 is also quoted:

27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

I think each of these are the marks of a true follower

  1. They love Jesus with all of their heart, mind, soul, and strength
  2. They love the people around them – both the sinner and the saint.
  3. The obey Jesus’ teachings to take up their cross and follow him daily.
  4. They live a life of holiness – the second part of James’ instructions.

It is my prayer for both our congregation and for myself that I can be a true follower and do these four things with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Not A Fan – A Choice

Everything in Moderation…or…Giving It All?

As we have mentioned before, our church is in a series based on the Kyle Idleman book, “Not a Fan.” This has been a powerful and convicting series, even for the pastoral staff.  We have been seeking God’s will each week, planning the songs, planning the message, watching the videos and (for me) helping to teach the teen’s small group.

At the end of last Wednesday’s youth group, a question came up – we were studying Luke 9:23 and the end of Luke 9:

57 As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”

59 He said to another person, “Come, follow me.”

The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”

60 But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”

61 Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.”

62 But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”

These are strong words from the mouth of Jesus.  Our pastor will be dealing with this passage on Sunday.  I haven’t seen the notes, so I may or may not cover the same territory – but God has really been speaking to me about these verses. In today’s culture these verses seem harsh.

On Sunday we were learning about how the early disciples translated the concept of Elijah to a Greek world that knew nothing of Elijah.  The prophet Elijah was a man of God – a man of passion.  Yes, it also seems he was prone to large mood swings, but he was a man who believed in God and God in return used Elijah in a powerful way.  James records “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”  (5:16b) He then goes on to mention Elijah specifically as a man of prayer.

Like I said, Elijah was a man of great passion.  He was willing to stand up to Israel’s wicked king Ahab and against the 450 prophets of Baal and the 450 prophets of Asherah. Elijah challenged these prophets to a battle of the gods.  The god who answered with fire, was the true God.  Baal’s prophets went on and on and on and yet no fire fell.  Then Elijah rebuilt the altar – dug a trench around it – poured water on the altar and the trench – drenching it completely.  Elijah starts playing and before he even says “Amen,” God sends the fire down – it consumes everything – the wood, the sacrifice, the water and the altar.  The people bow down and declare “The Lord is God.” Elijah kills the prophets of Baal and then goes to pray.  He prays seven times – SEVEN times – the seventh time his servant tells him, “I see the cloud the size of a human hand.” At that Elijah tells Ahab, “Get going the Lord is sending a mighty rain.” Elijah runs ahead of the chariots and according to the video Sunday – ran 20 miles to Jezreel.  That’s pretty amazing.

So how do you describe this passion?  The early disciples described it in what are now to me some very familiar ways – running.  As many of you know, I am getting ready to run my second half-marathon this coming Saturday.  I have been training since early August for this race.  This Saturday, I will race.  Racing is different than training.  Racing requires giving it all you got.  When I get to the end of the race on Saturday, I don’t want to have anything left.  I want to give it all — everything.

So many times as Christians, it seems like we don’t operate in that vein.  Listen to the words of the writer of Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” 

The Greeks and the Romans would have been very familiar with this concept of running.  They were, afterall, the founders of the Olympic games.  This is how they translated the passion of Elijah to the Greco/Roman culture.  The write of Hebrews talks about the great cloud of witnesses and we are to run.  Paul says we run to obtain an eternal prize.  He says that we need to run to win!  It’s worth every effort you make.

Let’s see if I can try to pull this all together and make some sense of all of this.  You can tell this has been on my heart, because this is one of my longer posts.

Some people look at Jesus’ words in Luke 9 – especially verse 23 and say that these are radical words.  I would agree, especially in our American culture.  In our culture, we are all about comfort and it seems – to me at least — that American Christianity is all about comfort – it’s all about convenience – it’s all about “what’s in it for me.”

Jesus speaks to these three men – and the gist of his words is this: “You need to be ready to be a follower of Jesus – whoever He calls – whenever He calls – whatever he calls us to do.

In the “Not a Fan” videos, several times the words “everything in moderation” are used – as if that’s how we are supposed to operate in God’s economy – in God’s culture.  I don’t know that I can find that in scripture.  In fact, the gist of “everything in moderation” can actually be found on the temple of Apollo at Delphi – a pagan/Greek temple.  So it really is the opposite of what Christ calls His followers to do.

In Philippians 2, Paul records the words to one of the earliest church hymns:

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

In verses 6-8, I don’t see anything that looks like everything in moderation.  Jesus Christ came to earth and gave everything He had to save us.  He took on the position of a slave – He gave up his divine privileges – He died a criminal’s death — to save us.  He didn’t just save us to give us a ticket to heaven.  It’s more than fire insurance.  He calls us to be his disciples – he calls us to be his followers — he calls us to go and make disciples – he calls us to go and make more Jesus followers.  That’s the Great Commission – Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teach these new disciples everything that I have taught you.

This is not easy believism – this is not a life of works – this is a life of following Jesus and doing what He has called us to do.  Let me finish with this powerful verse from James 1:27:

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

So are you an everything in moderation believer or are you giving Jesus all?  Are you a Fully.Committed.Follower?

Not A Fan – 4

What are you a slave of?

Dale has been writing about what he has been getting out of our church’s journey with “Not a Fan.” I have wanted to share what I have found in my own journey.
As I was reading the book “Not a Fan,” I was reading about what it means to be a slave of Christ. As human being, we do not want be owned by any one, especially those of us in the United States of America. We have been taught through our history the cost of slavery. We are proud of being free to do anything we want to do. I think that is the reason most people have a problem with the concept being a slave of Christ. Paul calls himself that in Romans 1:1.  “This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ, Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News.” He has called himself in other passages as well. This idea of being a slave to Christ means to give everything we have to follow Jesus. In the Old Testament, when a slave was finished with the time he had to work for a master, he could choose to leave or stay with the master. If he chose to stay, the master would pierce their ear at the door post. This meant that the slave would be the master’s for life. I think it is fair to say that most of us could not even imagine what it means to be a slave of someone — let alone being a slave to Jesus — and yet many choose to be slaves of many things – jobs, money, careers, family, pleasure, drugs, alcohol and many other things.

Dale already wrote about the rich, young ruler.  In Matthew 19, we hear this story about a man who was a slave to his wealth.  Most of the time we usually think of being slaves or addicts of things that are bad for us like drugs, alcohol, sex and porn. As I said, we can become slaves to other things like our jobs, possessions, families, sports (sports teams), hobbies, and other things that take our time and our money. If we look at how we spend our money or spend our time, we can tell where our heart is, or what the most important thing is to us. In my mind, it would be better to become a slave to Christ and know that when it comes to eternity I will have eternal life. What say you?

Not A Fan – 3

The Cost of Following Jesus

24 I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

25 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.

26 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”

27 Then Peter said to him, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?”

28 Jesus replied, “I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.

This post is a continuation of the post from last night.  We were looking at the rich, young ruler and we think that he may have had an allegiance issue – his money and possessions were a stumbling block to Jesus. Here is the Michael Card song that I referenced last night:

One of the things that we should consider is the Jewish context.  In the Jewish culture, those who were rich were considered blessed by God.  It wasn’t necessarily a good thing to be poor.  Sure, God gave provisions to feed the poor, but that wasn’t the normal state for those who were blessed by God.  Jesus turns this thinking on its head several times in the gospels.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” Then Jesus in this passage said that it would be very difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.  These are tough words – probably because riches compete with our love for God and of His son, Jesus.  Perhaps money even clouds our hearing to the voice of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus tells his disciples that everything is possible with God.  Then we get Peter’s crazy question – and to some point that is a question that some of us may ask.  There are times since I’ve been in the ministry I’ve asked this very question.  Lord, “What do I get for giving up everything to follow you?”

Jesus simple reply is that our reward is out of this world.  He doesn’t tell us we won’t get some earthly reward, but he reminds us that our reward is beyond our life on this earth.  Jesus goes on to say that those who have given up these things; houses, family, brother, sisters, property, things — for the sake of Jesus will receive an eternal reward and will inherit eternal life.  It requires a life that is willing to follow Jesus.  We are reminded by Jesus in Luke 9:23 ““If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”

In Luke 14, we have these words from Jesus, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.”

These are tough words, but Jesus doesn’t just want fans – people who stand on the sideline and cheer for Him.  Jesus wants followers!  The need in our lives to live it for ourselves is sometimes so powerful.  That’s why Jesus said that we must take up our cross each and every day — each morning when we get up — we must make a conscious decision to follow Jesus – with all of our hearts, with all of our minds, with all of our strength, and with all of our soul.

What have you given up for Jesus?  Are you simply a fan?  Or are you a follower?

Not a Fan – 2

I am loving this series that we are doing at Parkway.  It is a church-wide emphasis and both the adults and the teens are in small groups each week along with the Sunday morning message.  This series is both challenging and inspiring.

This past week, we asked the question, “Who or what influenced you the most in knowing what following Jesus was all about?” It was interesting to hear the answers from our students…almost all (without exception) said that their parents were the most influential in learning how to follow Jesus.  I would say that in my life, my parents were influential in that regard.  In addition, there were my friends at Trinity Wesleyan Church in Allentown, as well as our youth leader and his wife who did a great job. (I am always amazed that the great job volunteer youth leaders do.  They serve with passion and intensity and they love their teens.)  Audrey and Barry were quite influential during my high school years in shaping what I thought it meant to follow Jesus.  In addition, there was the passionate music of the era.  The Christian music wasn’t so much aimed at worship, but in teaching.  One of those artists who was greatly influential was the late Keith Green.  He challenged me what it meant to follow Jesus.

Over the course of the night, we discussed with the teens the importance of making faith their own.  While it is great to have your parents, youth leaders and friends teach you how to follow Jesus, it only really becomes part of your life when you make it your own.  I remember those formative teen years and the faith of my parents became my faith in Jesus – their influence, my youth leaders influence, and even my pastor’s influence.

Later on in the lesson we turned to the scripture (Matthew 19:16-30):

16 Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”

17 “Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” the man asked.

And Jesus replied: “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. 19 Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

20 “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”

21 Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

This young man, who apparently has much money comes to Jesus.  He asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus tells him that to do that, he must keep the commandments.

The young man replies, “Which ones?”  I find it interesting that the young man asks this question, as if he didn’t know.  We often talk about the ten commandments.  Jesus taught that the greatest commandment was to love God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength and the second was like it to love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus goes on to list the last 5 commandments – the ones that talk about loving your neighbor.  The young man says, “I’ve kept all those, but I’m missing something.” I think Jesus knew there was a heart problem with this young man.  He knew that this young man was more attached to his possessions than he was to God.  That’s why Jesus didn’t quote any of the first four commandments.  Because all of those commandments, speak of loving God first and foremost – with all of our heart, mind, and soul.

I often have suggested that commandments 1 through 4 speak of loving God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength and commandments 5 through 10 speak of loving our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus when quoting the great commandment said that on this commandment hang all the law and the prophets.

The young man was disappointed with Jesus’ answer, perhaps he thought he could buy his way into the Kingdom.

This leads us to the question, “What is keeping you from following Jesus?”  Many years ago, Michael Card wrote the song, “What would it take to keep you from Jesus?”  What is the obstacle that is standing in your way of following Jesus?  Is it money or possessions.  Is it friends?  Is it power? What?  I encourage you to search your heart today.  Instead of being a fan of Jesus, which I believe this man wanted to be, be a follower — be a fully, committed follower.

Mold Me — Make Me

Do you remember Silly Putty? It came in an egg-shaped container. You could mold it into any shape you wanted. The coolest thing about Silly Putty was you could flatten it and press on a picture. The image of the picture would be on the Silly Putty. So you could pull it and change the look of picture. Yes, I know that there is now software to do the same thing.

Our church is doing the series “Not a Fan.” If you are not familiar with the book, it is a call for Christians to not be fans, (an enthusiastic admirer) but to be followers – committed and fully devoted.   God wants us to be this way.  He wants to stretch us to make us the best person we can be. He never does this without our permission.  Sometimes it may be hard and other times we know when it is happening.  Sometimes we do not always want to go through every change that Christ asked us to go through.  Kyle Idleman writes, “We say to Jesus, I don’t mind you making some changes in my life, ‘but Jesus wants to turn your life upside down. We say, “I don’t mind a little touch- up work” but Jesus wants complete renovation. We’re thinking tune- up, He’s thinking overhaul. We think a little decorating, “why not?” but Jesus wants a complete remodel.”

                Part of being a Christians is changing our lives to reflect more of Jesus and less of ourselves — becoming the person that God knows we can be. As we let God mold us into his image, we becpme better people.  In my own life, I can see where I have let God mold me and make me better to do the job he wants me to do.

When I was in college I had to take speech and every time I got up to speak, I cried. My nerves got the best of me — I would shake too. God began to work in me by putting me in place where I could grow.  I now can stand in front of a church and preach. I am not saying I am the best speaker and I do get a little nervous.  Most time I do not show how nervous I get.

Another place I have let God work in me is working with the military. I remember the first time I went in to an Army recruiter’s office. I was so scared but God helped me through it.  After a few times, it got so much better and now I go in on a regular basis and talk and minister to the recruiters.

When you let God help you grow and became the person he knows you can be. It is great to see where you came from to what you are like now.

Not A Fan – Part 1

Our church is currently in a church-wide emphasis called, Not A Fan. This is based on the book by the same name by Kyle Idleman.  There is also a six-week video series that we are using among small groups. The first two video installments have been powerful.  This evening – even though it’s been a long day already – I stopped and watched the second installment so that I would know how the series is going.  I don’t want to give up any spoilers, let’s just say that Jesus calls us — even those of who could be considered a Matthew – so trapped in sin that they think they can’t escape – to follow him.  Matthew was a tax collector – a Jew, collecting tax for the “enemy” the Romans.  Through grace, Jesus called Matthew to follow Him.  He calls each one of us to follow Him.

Here’s where the story gets personal:

I’ve been a believer for many years now…I asked Jesus into my heart over 40 years ago now at a campmeeting near Danielsville, PA.  Throughout the years, Jesus has called me to follow him.  While I don’t remember much about those early years, I remember going to church – everytime it was open (I want you to know, that’s not a bad thing. I am very thankful that I was brought up that way.) What I remember thought is coming to a time when I had to make faith in Jesus and subsequently following Jesus mine.  I couldn’t just follow my parent’s Jesus.  In 1980, our youth group attended a regional youth convention put on by the Wesleyan Church.  It was during this youth convention – on the last day – Dr. Jimmy Johnson preached a message about following Jesus – following Jesus into full-time ministry.  That day I answered that call.  I was a senior in High School at the time and enjoyed music then as much as I do now.  Most everyone assumed I would attend one of our colleges and be a music director (we didn’t call them worship pastors at the time.) Eventually all that happened.  Some would call it a crooked road – but God and I started on a journey that day – a journey that, even now, is not completed.  Sure there have been several (many) chapters written in that story.

In year’s past I covered pieces of that story.

Some of the decisions to follow Jesus were tough…Like leaving Allentown…with everything we owned and two small children to move to a completely new place where at the time we knew no one.  A strange place with no mountains and attend college.

I know and so does Pam what it means to sacrifice and follow Jesus…in my bio for this blog, it talks about us being Christ-followers.  I believe we are and yet…in some ways I am still just a fan.

I was thinking about that thought this morning while running.  In Chapter Ten of the above story, that will be a major influence.  Over the last few nights, I have been going back over Facebook posts and blog posts to reconstruct my running journey.  Over the last three years, I’ve posted all over the place, but all the stats were never in one place.  About two years ago, I started using Map My Run, but never transferred the old information over to it, so it has always been an incomplete record.

While I have written about this transition from casual runner to avid runner, I never thought about it in terms of being a fan of running to being a follower of running.  As I have been entering the stats, you can see, when all that changed.  For many months my mileage totals were in the mid 30’s to mid 40’s for the whole month, then last year – during the summer, all that changed.  Most month’s except for those while I was getting ready for surgery and recovering, now are in the high 90’s to somewhere in the 100’s.

I think the interesting thing is that I’ve had people say to me, “I think you’re doing too much — you’re getting way too skinny — you’re going to hurt your knees — etc.” What they are saying is that I’ve become fanatical about running  – and I would say that they are right – but I am also a follower — and yet this morning while finishing up my exercise, I was convicted by the Holy Spirit.

Here I am, someone who has been more than a fan for his entire life and the Holy Spirit was convicting my that sometimes I am more of a fan of Jesus than I am a follower of Jesus.  Needless to say, the Holy Spirit’s because of the Holy Spirit’s prompting, I will be making some changes in my devotional life.  Isn’t amazing to be open to what Jesus wants for us.

The question is for you today, “Are you a fan or a follower?”