I hope you enjoyed the holidays and got a chance to spend some quality time with family and friends -- and some earnest time in prayer, worship, service, thanks and praise. After all, that is what holy-days are supposed to offer us time to do -- stop, pause, reflect, thank and praise.
My first selection for the new year is taken from Kyle Idleman's book, "Not a Fan." A fan, of course, is one who stands on the sidelines cheering, but never really gets into the game. They watch others play and cheer or critique their performance, but they do it as an observer and not an active participant. This, as he points out, is the habit of many in the church. Instead of being involved, they stand on the sidelines watching from a distance and critiquing those who are. And and as you might guess, the purpose of his book is to encourage people to stop being fans, get in the game, and start being earnest, involved, and completely committed followers of Jesus.
The following excerpts are from friends or people in his congregation who were fans, but through some life experiences (often difficult ones), were led to become wholehearted followers of Christ. I have included just two of their stories. Enjoy.
Not a Fan Story - by Dr. Rich Edwards
"On February 10, 2006 I was in control of my life. I had a thriving chiropractic practice, two sons, and a devoted wife. On February 11, everything changed. I was heading out to my hunting cabin to hunt wild boar with friends. As I drove along I could see the effects from the severe drought we had been experiencing. Everything seemed to have dried up and died. By the time I reached the road heading to the cabin it was dark. As I turned, I missed the road and ended up in five feet of thick brush. I tried to free my truck by putting it in forward, and then reverse, repeatedly. The friction from that somehow ignited the brush. Within seconds the truck was a large torch. I reached for the door handle to escape but the electrical system burned out and I was locked inside. Seconds later the windows exploded.
I don't know what happened after that, and I have no idea how I got out of the truck. The next thing I remember is walking down the road to the cabin telling myself over and over, "Don't stop. Keep going." When I reached the cabin my friends thought I was wearing some kind of three-dimensional leafy hunting outfit, but it wasn't camouflage. It was shredded, charred skin. A medical helicopter took me to a burn unit where I was told I wouldn't have much of a face left, and I would probably lose my sight as well as the use of my hands. God put an absolute halt on my life. I was so busy being so successful; I was on such a fast track, that God was a part of my life, but he was not the most important part. He was not on the throne of my heart or at the center of my universe. I was at the center.
I don't believe God caused the fire, but I do believe God allowed it because he wanted to get my attention. Like a parent who tries to get through to a child, God grabbed me by the shoulders, sat me down, and said, "I want you to listen to me." That was the beginning of a spiritual awakening in my life. Over the next four years doctors amputated seven fingers. I couldn't use what was left of my hands for even the simplest of tasks. But the doctors said there was nothing more they could do. That's when my wife, Cindy, asked about the possibility of a hand transplant. That began a time of waiting, testing, and prayer. We spent countless hours reading the Bible and praying together. Finally the day for my double hand transplant arrived. Twenty surgeons and three anesthesiologists took 17 and 1/2 hours to attach my new hands.
Many people have pointed out that it was a miracle that I didn't die in the fire that day. That's true, but in a very real way I did die in that fire. That man I was died that day and God gave me a new life where I'm not in control but have turned the controls over to him. I'm not in charge of my life anymore, I have submitted everything to Jesus. These days my wife and I constantly pray to be used by God in any way he wants to bring him glory. It may sound crazy, but I would rather have gone through all the pain and suffering and all of these challenges and have the relationship with Jesus I now have, than continued down the path I was on before the accident without that relationship. My name is Rich Edwards, and I am not a fan."
Not a Fan Story - by Carolyn Day
"I grew up in North Carolina, and though I believed in God, I didn't really have any kind of relationship with Jesus. As a student, I quickly became interested in the medical field and started working toward the goal of becoming a medical doctor. In the year 2000, I was studying to become a surgeon when things in my world began to fall apart. My husband at the time asked for a divorce, and two days later my mother committed suicide. The next year I led a double life. I was a surgical resident at work, but the rest of the time I was drinking heavily and contemplating my own suicide. I had no idea what to do or who to turn to. What soon became clear was that I couldn't bear these burdens alone. I had only visited church occasionally when I was growing up, but I found myself praying. I said, "God, if you're there, please take some of this off of me." I felt like I had lost everything. God was all that was left, but I wasn't sure that was enough.
After finishing my residency and getting married, my husband and I moved to the Louisville area to begin my career as a surgeon. Some friends invited us to come to church, and we accepted. Through coming to church every weekend, I found myself praying more and more. I started praying about whether or not I would give my all to God. Five days after I started praying, Kyle invited anyone who was ready to surrender everything to Jesus and follow him.
The next week I was baptized. It was uncomfortable, but it was a clear sign of the obedience God was calling me to. To be honest, I didn't expect to feel as different as I do. I never understood it when people would say they were born again or saved. I guess it's not something you can really understand until you've experienced it yourself. The healing I've felt since giving my life to Christ is incredible. I think that's because only the Great Physician could heal the wounds of this surgeon. And he has. My name is Carolyn Day and I am not a fan."
Maybe today you can ask yourself: Are you a fan looking on at the players and cheering or critiquing those involved in serving Jesus from the stands, or are you and active, committed, participating follower of Jesus?
To tweak the words of James just a little: Are you a doer of the Word, or just an onlooker? Are you still standing on the fringes looking in from the outside, or are you all in? Do you still run your life, or does Jesus?
Living in the Grace of Jesus, Pastor Jeff