Monday, October 31, 2016

Faith is More Than Being a Fan

Every Saturday during the fall, millions of fans crowd America's
football stadiums. But the commitment level of fickle fans can waver.
If you’re into spectator sports, chances are you’re a fan of a particular team, maybe several. How did you choose which teams to cheer for?

Sometimes being a fan is “inherited,” as in “my family has always rooted for XYZ team, so I do, too.” Maybe it’s because of where you have lived. Growing up near New York City, I became a Yankee fan, and later I also rooted for the Mets. Or perhaps it’s because of your alma mater – the high school or college you attended. My family and friends know I’m an avid Ohio State fan, and I’ve been one from the time I enrolled in 1967 and later received two degrees there.

Not everyone’s a big sports fan, of course. But chances are you’re a fan of some entity  – it could be an actor or artist, some other kind of celebrity, a political party, or even a car manufacturer. And in all likelihood, if you’re a fan you feel very strongly about it.

The point is, being a fan, supporter or advocate of someone or something is largely a matter of choice. Even though I’ve live in SEC country for more than 35 years, I’m not a big fan of the Southeastern Conference. Even though I lived in the Northeast as a boy, I didn’t have to become a fan of any of the New York sports teams. And there are particular entertainers I really like, and others I don’t, but no one is forcing me to give them my unquestioned allegiance.

In some ways it’s similar spiritually. Geography might play a role in what we believe. If raised in the Middle East, one’s definitely going to be exposed more to Islam than any other religion. People in the Far East are more typically oriented toward Buddhism, Shintoism or Hinduism, again depending on the nation and culture in which they live. But since faith is a matter of the heart, as well as the head, no one can coerce a person to believe one way or another.

This, however, is where the similarity between sports fandom and spiritual faith ends. Because if my beloved Buckeyes win, I’ll feel happy, and if they lose, I’ll feel sad. I could even choose to no longer root for them. Nevertheless, their successes and failures don’t define who I am or how I live. My faith, on the other hand, does.

Kyle Idleman wrote a book called Not a Fan, in which he explained the difference between being a nominal, once-a-week “fan” of Jesus Christ and being a committed, 24/7 follower. As we survey the contemporary church scene across America, it appears there are many fans of Jesus, but not nearly as many true disciples. This is one reason He cautioned, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

A “warm fuzzy” form of faith, one that’s not too demanding and doesn’t require much of us, has a certain appeal. We can check into the sanctuary periodically, even spend a few minutes in the Bible once in a while, as long as we’re not asked to alter our lives or priorities too much.

But “warm fuzzy” is anathema to the calling God places on each of His children. We see this repeatedly in the Old Testament, when superficial belief – being a “fan” – is dismissed. Deuteronomy 6:4-5, for instance, says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

As his leadership of the Israelites was coming to an end, Joshua declared to the people, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

The world around us presents a multitude of “god” options – possessions, power, status, careers, ideologies, hobbies, family, even sports teams. Any of them can consume our lives and thoughts.

So we have a choice. We can be a fan of Jesus, turning to Him in times of crisis or when seeking specific blessings, while continuing to conduct our lives independently, or choose to follow and serve Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). Because as God instructed the Israelites upon giving them the Ten Commandments, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3)

As Joshua and his family did, we also must choose this day whom we are willing to serve.

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