From Fringe Follower to Faithful Follower

(John 6:51-58)

Over the past couple of years I've realized one of the most controversial subjects one can engage in isn't war, homosexuality, politics, or which type of worship service is most appropriate. The most controversial subject today is Jesus, who he is, whose son he is, whether he was crucified, was he married, and was he resurrected.

If you don't believe me try this experiment next time you're in a group of people. In the course of your normal discussion with folks begin to mention the name Jesus and see if people don't start to slip away slowly, or find an excuse to go chat with someone else.

It seems we can talk about our church or a specific ministry we're involved in and people don't mind. But bring up Jesus, and watch out, eyebrows get raised, people begin to squirm, and an uncomfortable feeling begins to roll in like a dense fog. Soon you can just feel the tension in the room; it's so thick you can cut it with a knife, as they say. Jesus has this knack, that because of his teaching he forces people to take a side. It's hard to be on the fence about Jesus. His teaching and character force a decision that either your for him or against him. He challenges people to make a stand. He leaves no option apart from making a decision.

This fact is never more evident then in our Gospel reading this morning when Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." (John 6:53)

Now while his statement is symbolic, it nevertheless requires a commitment. With Jesus there is no middle of the road, or straddling the fence if you will. With Jesus it's all or nothing. To put it very bluntly, in choosing or not choosing Jesus you are choosing between life or death, you're either for him or against him; you either follow him or leave him.

C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity explained the controversial nature of Jesus this way. "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn't be a great moral teacher. He'd either be a lunatic…or else he'd be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man is the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse…But don't let us come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He hasn't left that open to us. He didn't intend to."

Jesus can demand our all because he gave his all

  • in coming to this earth as a little baby;
  • growing up and living in this world to better understand what it's like to live in a world of temptation and sin; " he sacrificed his life for our sins;
  • and he chose to stay on the cross when it would have been easy for him to leave it, and us behind. So friends we have a choice; we are either with Jesus or not.

The sad truth is there are many who claim to be Christian who haven't made this level of commitment. They live on the fringe, their fringe dwellers. And I suggest there are three kinds of fringe dwellers.

The ones who intentionally live on the fringe, those who feel their unworthy to make a wholistic commitment to Christ, and still there are those who start out on the fringe but desire to move into a more committed relationship with Christ.

Let's first consider those who intentionally dwell on the fringe. These are the folks, who come out on Christmas and Easter, or they find a church where they can hide, some even just come to be entertained. They'd like a miracle or two, and they'd like to have a prayer answered as the need arises.

These folks are curiosity seekers, their more comfortable hiding in the wood work rather than being involved in their faith. They are consumers, never giving, only taking. They're the ones who have the well prepared excuses of why they can't serve or actively participate. You see I know what this kind of fringe dweller is because many years ago I used to live on the fringe.

I was a "fair weather" follower, always looking forward to Christmas, Easter, and the special programs the church would put on during the year. I liked hiding in the shadows of the church and as long as everything was going my way (meaning people were leaving me alone and I could keep my faith private), I was willing to show up on Sunday morning.

So as long as no one asked me to make a commitment to the church, to really practice my faith in a tangible, way I was willing to support the church with some minimum giving of my income like I was buying a ticket for a show, and I was willing to grace the church with my presence on Sunday morning, like I was doing everyone else a favor.

I understand why living on the fringe seems easier, why touching the cross rather than embracing it, is more comfortable.

But one day when I finally said yes to playing basketball with some guys from the church, my life changed. Before too long I was serving in different ministries, and eventually even agreed to serve as the stewardship chair person.

Living on the fringe was no longer appealing. I realized something was missing in my life, and I new the place to find purpose and true life was in Christ. And I realized hiding and being partially committed to Christ's church was not the answer.

The second kind of fringe dweller is the person who feels because of their past or present they aren't worthy to be counted among the faithful. They feel as if they need to become worthy before they can present themselves before the Lord, or worse yet they feel they never can.

The truth is we can't make ourselves worthy. On our own none of us is worthy to be in the presence of God. This is why Jesus came and gave his life for us, so that by paying the debt for our sins we become worthy before God. To become worthy we need Christ, there is no other way.

So if you're dwelling on the fringe because you feel unworthy, I invite you to follow Jesus, seek his forgiveness and commit yourself fully to his saving grace. As you do you will see that when Jesus becomes your Savior and the Lord of your life, you are worthy and equal among the faithful.

The third kind of fringe dweller are those folks who are relatively new to the faith or who are nominal Christians, and desire a closer relationship with Christ but aren't sure what to do. I think many folks start their faith journey in this place.

To grow a deeper, closer and far reaching relationship with Christ you need to get involved in your faith. Maybe not jump in with both feet right away but certainly we need to start by getting our feet wet and then slowly wade in.

  • We need to worship weekly,
  • We need to read the Bible and begin to understand its teaching,
  • We need to interact with other Christians through fellowship,
  • We need to serve others,
  • And then ultimately we need to share our faith with those who may be beginning the journey themselves. In other words, become part of our Discipleship Adventure.

We don't learn to play a sport well, or drive a car, without doing some preparatory work. Well, faith doesn't come through osmosis either. Last night I tried an experiment. I put a Bible under my pillow before going to sleep with the hope of waking up in the morning more knowledgeable about the Bible than before I went to bed. It didn't work. Faith takes time, it takes work, and it takes commitment, it doesn't just happen.

As I reflect back on my fringe dwelling days I've come to realize that being a fringe dweller really wasn't easier than being fully committed to Jesus as I had thought, it took a lot of work to avoid people and to push aside the leading of the Holy Spirit.

When I finally said enough of this living on the fringe and told myself to move out of the shadows and get off the fence, I began to experience real joy. Once I stepped up to the cross and began fully embracing it I began to experience and understand the unexplainable blessings I heard people talking about.

Now needless to say my fringe dwelling life is not something I'm real proud of, but I'm glad I experienced it because I can understand what many fringe dwelling Christians are going through. And it makes the journey I've been on since that time, all the sweeter.

Becoming a faithful follower does require work and it's not always easy, and honestly we may not experience all the rewards of following Christ in this life, but the eternal retirement plan makes following very worthwhile.

So what is a faithful follower?

Faithful followers are loyal to the end. When the going gets tough they can be counted on. Through think and thin they are there for others. When the going gets rough they don't give up.

Faithful followers are participators in the Lord's work, " they are committed to ensuring the Gospel message is shared, and that life-time faith development continues to take place. " They are contributors. " They don't just take and give; they give and share even more. " They have crossed the line and have committed their whole self to Jesus. " They have taken to heart the words of Jesus, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:54)

The lives of faithful followers are characterized by bold obedience, total commitment, and complete surrender. " Jesus is their master, their Lord, and their leader. " They give their all. " They choose life over death. " They can be trusted to the very end. " They follow Jesus not because he's attractive or promises an easy life; but because they love him.

I have known a great many people whom I would call faithful followers. And we have honored one today with a stain glass window. Ralph and his 73 years of service to Christ and this church provides for us a real example of a faithful follower.

Ralph accepted Christ in 1930 at the age of 12 and became a member of this congregation. From that moment, until his death in 2003, I understand he stood as a shining example of what a faithful follower is all about. And the window dedicated today in his memory stands as a testament to this truth.

So when it comes to following Christ are you dwelling on the fringe or are you faithfully following?

Those who place their hope in the Lord; will one day realize his promises, and when we die and see Jesus face-to-face, we will live in the light of His amazing grace.

And always remember, those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles." (Isaiah 40:31)


Read other messages by Pastor Wade