The One Right Question: Finding God in a Sea of Confusion

"It's important to understand that the grace of God doesn't simply invite us to follow ... it teaches us to follow."  
                                                       - Kyle Idleman

My adult Sunday school class recently finished the book Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman.  This is not a book for the weak of heart.  I suppose some could read through it from beginning to end and keep the text at arm's length.  Sometimes I envy people who can do that.  As I began reading this book, it occured to me that I was in for a journey - whether I wanted one or not!  Idleman is a pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and the back of the book proclaims that his church is the fifth largest in the country.  In just over 200 pages, Idleman lays out an argument that goes something like this:  People who desire God fall into two camps.  The first group is composed of fans, or those who think God is really great and Jesus was a pretty cool guy, but they don't do much beyond pay Him lip service and attend the occasional church service.  They can look very convincing from the outside because fans say all the right things and know all the right people.  They know about God, but they don't have a relationship with God.  The second group is composed of followers, or those people who are actually in love with God, and are doing what He tells us to do in the Bible.  If fans are the people in the football stadium who cheer on their favorite team, then followers are the people who actually tend to the wounded players and stay long after the game is over.   

Furthermore, Idleman says that most people in the Christian church today are just fans (see, I told you it wasn't for the weak of heart)!  He wields the scalpel of truth even deeper by saying this in the first chapter: "Fans assume their good intentions make up for their apathetic faith.  Maybe you've already decided your a follower and not a fan; well, I hope you keep reading, one of the core symptoms of fandom is that fans almost always consider themselves to be followers."  Only the pastor of America's fifth largest church could get away with saying something like this.  Others say things like this at their own peril, and I don't say things like this at all.

It was an interesting  book, and an interesting study.  We ended the 7 week unit by discussing the following item.  Now that we see a distinction between fan and follower, what are we going to do about it, and is this even the correct question to ask?  No really, what IS the one right question to ask from a study like this?  Is it am I a fan or follower?  Is it where do we go from here?  Or is it simply well ... on to the next study?  I'm not certain that we ever reached a definitive answer at the end of those 7 weeks.  So that is my question today.  What is the one right question to ask in order to cut through all the confusion and find God in today's culture?  

It would probably be prudent here to talk a little bit about what I mean when I say "confusion."  I think that between what we learn from our peers and family, what we see in the media, what we hear in church, and what we read in books - it is easy to become confused about who God is.  After all, if you are going to be a follower (instead of a fan), it is good to know what you are following!  This is not just a pithy statement.  Think back, when was the last time you heard a sermon message about what it really means to count the cost of following Jesus?  I think a good many people never arrive at the question of fan or follower.  Many probably stop seeking God after they get confirmed at church, or maybe others might compartmentalize God into one day per week.  I have been guilty of both at various times.  This question forces us to dig deeper.

I remember telling my wife that I get angry sometimes when I read books like this.  For example, Francis Chan's excellent book on the dangers of lukewarm living (titled Crazy Love) reminds us that loving God isn't about a rulebook or checking things off of a list.  But then he goes on to list out some of the lukewarm living indicators.  In this book Kyle Idleman reminds us that following God is more than having a fish bumper sticker on your car, but then on the inside of the back cover I read about the 'Not a Fan marketing campaign" where you can purchase a t-shirt with the logo on it.  I mention these things not because I don't believe what both of these pastors are saying, just that I think it is easy to get sidetracked or confused in lieu of all the different lines of feedback and noise coming at us all the time.  Would a fan even care enough to be nervous about any of this? Would a follower care at all?  Oh well, maybe I'll just go and buy the fish sticker AND the t-shirt!


We have some pastors telling us that if you love God and do what He says, then you will have good health and plenty of money.  We have some telling us that in order to love God, you must carry picket signs and shout obscenities while standing outside of abortion clinics.  Still others tell us that being gay is the worst sin there is.  What are we to make of all this?  What does the Bible actually say about finding God?  Romans 10:9 tells us that "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." This is terrifyingly simple.  An honest study of the Scriptures as a whole does also mention being baptized and having a repentant heart.  You could fill a book with just these two things, but my point is this: if we are able to swim through this sea of confusion, then we may find in the distance - however remote or dimly lit - an island with a lighthouse on it.  The lighthouse is what God actually said, the sea is what we think He said.  But at this point we must ask another question ... and this is the question that I think applies to both fan and follower, pastor and lay person.  Now that we can see the lighthouse, what do we do?  Are we comfortable in the sea?  Maybe the water is warm and we have expensive SCUBA equipment that can keep us content for hours.  Do we press ahead to the lighthouse anyway?  After all, the island is so small, and it is really far away.  Maybe better to wait for the tourist boat to come back for us instead, and whisk us back to the resort.  After all, we can always ask the people at the front desk about the lighthouse once we are safely back at the hotel.  

I consider myself a follower sometimes, and a fan at other times.  But this may be a cop out answer.  Because if we have accepted Jesus (remember Romans 10:9?) then we also get something called grace.  Grace to me, means that even when I screw up, I am still loved.  Grace to me, means that I don't have to try so hard to be a follower, and that I need not be so ashamed when I end up acting more like a fan.  If you are lucky enough to have made it to the lighthouse, then rejoice.  I think for most of us, however, we are prone to take the occasional stroll back into the sea.  I suspect this is an honest answer, but how wonderful it is to take up residence in the lighthouse itself - as we were always meant to.  But we can't get to the lighthouse unless we ask ourselves the right questions.  The sea is a dangerous place, and the problem is that the water is warm and it is comfortable.  Human beings, however, are called to be more than just good swimmers.  


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Comments

  1. See, now I'm going to have to read BOTH books. Very thought provoking. Something to chase down.

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