COLUMN: I’ve been waiting years to say this

Published 12:22 pm Monday, March 4, 2024

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As Easter approaches, a declining yet still formidable portion of our culture will gather on that sacred morn to celebrate the victory at the Tomb. People will wake up and ready themselves for church. Some of them, for the first time since Christmas Eve. But ready, nonetheless. 

Would you like to hear this pastor’s Easter wish? This is the column I’ve considered for years how to write. I’ve pondered how to best express this and wondered who might love what I’m about to say. Also, who’ll get bent out of shape. 

I still doubt I’ve mastered this message, even after turning it this way and that. Measuring words, including the cost of some. But also realizing that if I never wrote another column, I’d want to be sure this was among them all. Here goes. 

This year, rather than fans of Jesus turning out in droves at Easter, I wish we could gather Jesus followers instead. You see, followers are different from fans. 

Fans like the idea of Jesus. They’ll put stickers about him on their cars and maybe even wear clothes with his messages. But followers? They actually live in ways that reflect they know a little something about the man behind the name. The truth is, at most of the churches I’ve served, I may have had more Jesus fans than followers. 

Admittedly, in my worst moments, I, too, am more a fan than a follower. That much is true. A fan of Jesus will proclaim their love for the Bible. A follower of Jesus has actually read it. Read it to see what’s in there and not to simply confirm their already pre-formed biases and opinions. 

A follower of Jesus understands that Jesus didn’t die in order to save you or me so that we could simply keep on living in the ways we already were. A Jesus follower understands that transformation, renewal and reshaping is part of the salvation transaction. A Jesus fan cheers our Lord on from a distance while keeping safe all their darkest inner values. 

You see why this Easter morning, what I’d really like to do is gather to worship with Jesus followers. Jesus followers don’t cheapen the good news by insisting on their own way. Jesus followers understand that our Lord died because often the innocent one dies when there is sin and selfishness around. 

I need Jesus followers around me because they are good influences on me. They understand that when Jesus cleared out the money-changers from the Temple, what he was really doing was standing up to economic injustice. He was taking a stand, sent from the very Creator God, to say that mistreating poorer and weaker people flew in the face of what God had in mind for humanity. 

What might Jesus observe in the courtyards and Temple layers of our own day, and be dismayed by? For starters, mean-spirited Jesus fans who come into the church gladly on Sunday but then mistreat and short-tip the waitress at lunch after church.  

I think our Lord would be pushing back at the discriminatory attitudes and practices that many Jesus fans enable and even endorse. Misogynistic attitudes and archaic practices that hold back the equally capable among us would also fall short of our Lord’s expectations. 

Jesus fans wear a few hats at the same time. They layer on their Christian hats along with their encultured, political and opinionated hats. The trouble is, they leave the latter three on first, so that the “Christian” part never truly rests upon their heads. It never really touches their skin and sinks in. 

Meanwhile, Jesus followers are at least trying. Jesus followers strain their beliefs, practices and opinions through the filter of whether they could square them with the life and teachings of Jesus. Jesus fans, by contrast, try to wall off their faith and resist letting it influence the rest of their lives. 

Am I a blend of fan and follower? You bet. Which is why my wish is to be surrounded by Jesus followers this Easter Sunday. Somehow, the whole experience might feel a bit less disingenuous. 

Plus, there is the obvious that I alluded to earlier. I need the good influence of Jesus followers — people who make me want to be a better person. I’ve heard all the hype I care to from Jesus fans. Their hypocrisy and often mean-spirited rhetoric has done terrific damage to the Church already. If you’re a Jesus follower, I’d sure be privileged to share in worship with you this Easter.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.