I didn’t make my high school cheer squad. I blame that on the unfortunate fact that, try as I might, I never could quite get those darn splits. I did get a chance to fill in several times as the school mascot, a “sabercat.” (Let’s just say that jumping up and down while peering between two “saberteeth” in a sweaty, paper mache headpiece that flattened one’s hair into a matted mess was not as glamorous as one might think.)
Despite those traumatic experiences, I’m still a cheerleader at heart. I love to root for my favorite teams, whether they be Central High School, the Denver Broncos, or the U.S. Olympic athletes. I am a loyal and enthusiastic fan.
So it should come as no surprise that as a Christian, I also like to cheer for the “home team.” I love me a good testimony. I applaud at baptisms. I tear up at missionary stories. Gimme a J! J! Gimme an E! E! (I’ll stop now. You get the idea.)
I recently finished a book, however, that is really messing with my cheerleader mentality. It’s called Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman, pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Pastor Kyle’s basic premise is that Jesus was more interested in gathering followers than attracting fans. He came to this conclusion after studying the gospels: “It wasn’t the size of the crowd Jesus cared about; it was their level of commitment.”
The dictionary defines fan as “an enthusiastic admirer.” Idleman relates this term to our modern-day approach to Christianity:
…I think Jesus has a lot of fans these days. Fans who cheer for him when things are going well, but who walk away when it’s a difficult season. Fans who sit safely in the stands cheering, but they know nothing of the sacrifice and pain of the field. Fans of Jesus who know all about him, but they don’t know him.”
Jesus isn’t looking to fill a stadium with fans or a sideline with cheerleaders. He is recruiting participants who will get in the game. And leave everything on the field.
Most of us don’t mind Jesus making some minor change in our lives but Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down. Fans don’t mind him doing a little touch-up work, but Jesus wants complete renovation. Fans come to Jesus thinking tune-up, but Jesus is thinking overhaul. Fans think a little makeup is fine, but Jesus is thinking makeover. Fans think a little decorating is required, but Jesus wants a complete remodel. Fans want Jesus to inspire them, but Jesus wants to interfere with their lives.”
Whoa. I’m such a wimp. If I whined when the Sabercat Hat messed with my hair, how do you think I might react when Jesus wants to mess with my life?
There is no way to follow Jesus without him interfering with your life. Following Jesus will cost you something. Following Jesus always costs something.”
I’ve been challenged along these lines lately by the example of another pastor, Saeed Abedini. If you’re unfamiliar with his story, Saeed is an Iranian born American citizen who has been imprisoned in Iran’s notoriously deadly Evin Prison since this past September. His crime? Being a follower of Jesus, in a country where following Jesus can literally cost you everything.
Last month a letter from Saeed was successfully smuggled out of prison. In it, he relays some of what holding on to his faith is costing him. But he also shares how his imprisonment and suffering have afforded him “golden opportunities” to point others to “The Shining Morning Star.” The letter reads a lot like other letters written to the early church from ancient prison cells. I think the church today could use more letters like these.
So I’m compelled to ask myself: When was the last time my faith cost me something? Messed with my plans? Interfered with my life?
Am I a fan or a follower? That is the question Jesus asks each of us.
I’m still pretty “rah rah” when it comes to my relationship with Jesus. I’m passionate about His church and loyal to His cause. But I’m laying down my pom poms and lacing up my cleats instead. Because there’s work to be done.
And I am not a fan.
“He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.” (Mark 2:14b, NLT)
*The quotes shared above are from the introduction and the first twenty or so pages of Not a Fan. The rest of the book is good too! Kyle offers helpful insights into what it really means to be a follower of Jesus.
**Please take three minutes to listen to Saeed’s letter here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfBeRICdCcU. Trust me, it will do your faith good.