Since moving to Kentucky in 2007, there is a lot I have learned about our great commonwealth. I have learned that a Derby Pie is a unique combination that must be tasted to be appreciated. I have learned that Lexington is not only the “horse capital of the world,” but also the “traffic jam capital” as well. I have learned that you can tell when someone is new to the state by how they pronounce “Louisville.”
Yet of all the things I have learned about Kentucky, probably the most significant is this: we love our sports. Sports is part of the culture in Kentucky. From the youth basketball courts to the college basketball games, we love to take in sports and talk about them daily. Go to McDonald’s in Lawrenceburg on any morning and you are guaranteed to hear people either talking about the next Kentucky game or a recent high school contest.
We love to get involved in sports. We love to watch the athletes and cheer for our favorite team. We get excited when our team wins and we get frustrated, for example, when a certain team dressed in Gold and Blue decides not to make a basket against Texas. We love our sports.
As much as we love sports, myself included, I wonder if being a fan has ever cost us anything. Sure, we will spend money on tickets, souvenirs, and even valuable time watching sports. There is a financial cost to being a fan, but being a sports fan doesn’t cost anything of us personally. We can come and go as we please, watch the game if we choose, and even decide to follow another team if we feel a change is needed. Being a fan does not demand anything of us and rarely expects anything in return, other than for us to cheer as loud as we can.
We use this image of sports and fandom today, because this is one of the primary ways we engage our faith in Christ. We like being fans of Christ. We feel like our relationship is best when we receive all the benefits of being attached to Jesus without it costing us too much or expecting anything of us. We come to church on Sunday, read our Bible, maybe say a prayer or two during the week, but we become uncomfortable when our faith really challenges us and demands something deeper from us. We want the fun and joy of faith without transformation or cost.
Is this what Jesus wants? Is this what Jesus desires? Does Jesus really just want us to be fans who merely sit on the sidelines, drinking it all in without our faith truly impacting our lives? I think Jesus wants more from us. Jesus doesn’t want us to simply be people who “come and go” with their faith. He wants people who are truly engaged, deeply inspired, and completely transformed by encountering the Living Christ in their lives. Jesus wants followers – people who are willing to let go of their lives in order to gain a deeper life through Christ.
This idea of being a follower of Jesus will serve as our guide as we continue our series, which looks at words that will give shape and meaning to our lives in the new year. Today, we want to see how the word “follow” from John 1:43-51 helps us understand the kind of deep and purposeful life Jesus desires of us and our church. Jesus wants followers and not fans.
These words from John 1:43-51 come in the days following Jesus’ baptism. As John tells us, it has been a few days since that momentous occasion at the Jordan River. Jesus has spent those initial days organizing and recruiting the band of 12 men who would be his most dedicated disciples, or followers. Many were followers of John who decided to follow Jesus. Others were people Jesus encountered and invited to join him on a journey.
In this passage, Jesus encounters two of those disciples, Philip and Nathaniel, and invites them to join him. This is early in Jesus’ ministry. There have been no miracles or moving moments of teaching. Yet, there is an invitation for both to “come and see” what will take place and all that will happen through Jesus. There is an invitation to participate in this life and all that Jesus has for them.
Thus, the fact that Jesus tells them to follow him is very important. It indicates something more than what it might appear on the surface. At the very basic level, it might seem that Jesus is inviting these two simply to go where he is going. To come alongside him as he begins to traverse the Judean countryside. Of course, there is some element of that going on in this passage. There is also something much deeper going on. Jesus is inviting them to follow him in tbe sense of having their life be defined and transformed by Christ’s life. Jesus invites them on a journey of identifying themselves with the very life, teaching, and presence of Christ.
To follow Jesus is about being completely defined and transformed by Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. It is about connecting our heart and mind with Jesus. It is about more than simply enjoying Jesus and thinking he has something good to say to us. It is about seeing Jesus as the One who truly guides and defines how we live, who we are, and how we engage the world around us.
Jesus invites all of us into this journey of discipleship where we grow closer to him and identify ourselves more by his love and witness. It is not easy to follow Jesus. It is a costly way of life that demands something of us. It is more than just sitting on the sidelines and trying to enjoy as much Jesus as we can without Jesus messing up our lives. Jesus wants to come in, mess up our lives, and change them in a way that is better and deeper than anything we can ever imagine.
To be a follower of Jesus and to experience the life Christ desires for us, we have to commit ourselves to the Lord. A follower is someone who is on a life-long journey of pursuing and seeking Christ. It is not something we can choose when we want or when we have time. Jesus does not want people who will seek other options when things get tough or who will only engage when things are going well. Jesus wants us in all seasons of life. Being a follower of Christ demands a continual and daily engagement of our lives, so that we may grow closer and deeper with our Lord in every way possible.
Jesus doesn’t want just our commitment. The Lord also wants our devotion. We live lives where our devotion to Jesus is often in competition with many other interests. Jesus is often just one of a collection of passions in our heart that vie for our attention and time. Being a follower means that our devotions have to be put into practice. Jesus wants our full heart, not just the little bit that we are willing to give to him. He wants our entire love and to have our heart completely devoted to him. Jesus wants our hearts fully devoted to him and to have everything else about us, all our passions and hopes, be defined by our faith in the Lord.
To be a follower is about commitment, it is about devotion, and it is about surrendering ourselves to Jesus. This is where it gets uncomfortable. Jesus wants us to give up our entire lives to him, so that we may gain our life through him. This means that we have to be willing to let Jesus be in control of our lives and allow the Lord to be what guides and motivates us. For many of us, we have a hard time surrendering ourselves to Jesus because we want to still be in control of everything. We cannot be true followers of Christ if we demand to have complete control of everything about us. To be a follower of Jesus means we allow Jesus to completely define who we are.
Being a follower of Jesus requires everything we have. The life Christ calls us to is a life where we are completely aligned to his life and passions. Following Jesus is costly. It is not simply a question about whether we believe or not. It is a question about whether we will be completely transformed and redefined by being part of a journey to experience everything that Jesus says, does, and continues to do today through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Following Jesus will cost us our entire life, but in the process, we will gain a life of hope and love. To receive this life and follow Jesus is not easy. It is difficult and challenging. We will make mistakes along this journey. We will do things wrong. Yet, we do not travel this journey of discipleship alone. There is grace following us. There is joy in the process. The presence of Christ is always with us, sustaining us, encouraging us, and guiding us on this journey.
There is something deeply transformative about moving from the sidelines of faith to be part of the life of Christ by seeking to follow the Lord. That is what God wants for each of us. The Lord doesn’t want us to merely sit back and to enjoy what we want of this faith. Jesus wants us to be part of this journey by being followers who are committed, devoted, and who give up their life so that they may gain their life in Christ.
Today, as we begin to dream and think about Claylick’s next generation, it will take all of us being followers of Jesus so that we can be the church God desires us to be. We cannot be the church that sits on the sidelines and hopes that something good will happen. Claylick’s next generation will only come into being as long as we seek to be followers who are committed to going where Jesus will lead us, who are devoted to the Lord in all things, and who surrender our ideas in order to gain Jesus’ ideas for us and our community. If we commit ourselves to this, and to being a follower of Jesus. anything can happen here.
For now, though, the question of whether or not we will be followers of Jesus is asked to each of us personally. Are we willing to accept the invitation that Jesus has given us – to let go of our lives in order to gain the life Jesus desires for us? Are we willing to place our full devotion in Christ alone? Are we willing to commit ourselves to Christ even when things are difficult?
If we are, I promise you that it will be well worth the journey. Even though the road may be difficult and the journey challenging, the invitation to be Christ’s follower will change our lives and change the lives of those around us. Nothing could be better than to follow the Lord and “come and see” all that he has for us.