"Without sports, who would you follow?"

     Every night driving home down the 405 freeway to Long Beach I pass a billboard that reads, "Without sports, who would you follow?"  As a pastor you can imagine my immediate response, "with or without sports, first you follow Jesus!"  But more and more I think about what this message says about the generation of ESPN (who sponsored the billboard) worshippers and how much the media influences what we follow.
     The literal meaning of the Greek word akoloutheo ("acolyte" comes from this word) means "to walk behind" or "to let another lead."  A more figurative meaning is: to be a disciple of.  What is it that leads you in your daily life?  Who or what is it that you walk behind?  The appropriate answer for anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian is "Jesus."  But can you honestly say that Jesus Christ has the most influence in your life?
     Bruce Larson, the former executive director of Faith at Work, was fascinated by the way life-changing truth can be communicated person to person.  So he conducted an experiment.  He literally asked hundreds of people, in small groups and individually this two part question; Which person has been the most influential force in your life, and what was the nature of your relationship with this person?
     First, he found that the person most frequently named who most influenced others, though in some way superior, always treated the other as an equal.  He or she didn't provide a service, but was rather a friend and a servant in the relationship.
     Second, in the stories that were told, the influential person was genuinely interested in hearing what the other person had to say.  This was a sincere concern for the other person's well being.
     Third, the influential persons were vulnerable and open about their own weaknesses.  They were honest, and in that honesty asked for the other's help. They were not stingy receivers.  They themselves had needs and expressed those needs openly.
     What could this mean in relationship to being a disciple of Jesus?  First, when we let Jesus influence our lives, he becomes the most influential person in our lives.  Though superior, he knows what it is like to be human.  He didn't come to earth to provide a service but rather befriended many people in his life. As a servant in his relationship with others he communicated God's love for all in tangible ways. We can do that!
     In the stories we hear about Jesus in relationship with others he was genuinely interested in what the other person had to say.  He didn't have to fake care or concern for others, he really cared for God's people, usually the ones who were on the fringes of society.  We can do that!
     The vulnerability of Jesus was expressed in a variety of ways.  He openly wept at the death of his friend.  He feared the coming days as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane.  He delighted in the presence of small children.  He cried out from the cross for his Father.  Jesus showed us an honest way to ask for help when he needed it.  Maybe the best example was to recruit 12 guys and take them on the road with him.  Jesus was open and honest about what he needed and was not afraid to ask for help.  We can do that!
     Following Jesus is never easy.  It usually means that we give up our self-satisfying sainthood and let someone else lead our lives.  The reality of the valuable message of the Christian gospel is best conveyed relationally, not through argument or debate.  The invitation into an authentic sharing of Jesus in a world where words have become cheap and there are so many other competing invitations comes from the One who called you into the good news. People respond much more to how we feel about them and treat them than through what we try to tell them.
We can do that!

Pastor Laurie