As a farm boy, sports had NO part in our lives whatsoever — no Little League baseball, no pee-wee football, no swimming lessons and no watching sports on TV. My family was so sports declined that when I told my mom I needed a left-handed glove to play ball during elementary school recess, she brought home exactly that — a glove to fit my LEFT hand! For years I caught and threw with my left hand. No wonder I was always picked last for teams.

However, things changed in ninth grade when a youth leader said we were going to a Hershey Bears’ hockey game. As I watched that game, something innate stirred within my soul. I was hooked! It did not even stop with the Hershey Bears but grew and grew like a monster from them to the Philadelphia Phillies to the Eagles to the Flyers to the Seventy-Sixers! It’s now been a 50 year addiction. Even though I’ve lived in Indiana, New Zealand, Vermont, Ohio and Western PA (Steelers’ country!), I have always remained a true blue Philly sports fan.

Sports fans come in all varieties from the die-hards who suffer year after year always waiting for next year but never giving up hope, to the fickle, fair weather ones who come and go. The word “fan” comes from “fanatic” and means “an enthusiastic devotee or admirer of a sport, diversion, celebrity, etc.” Real fans know their teams, the players, their stats, their win/loss record; they go to the games, watch them on TV or follow them on I-phones; they wear the team’s gear; they live and die with the team.

I have fortunately been able to live long enough to see all four Philly teams win their championships. The ecstasy of such wins as the Eagles’ 2018 Super Bowl victory and the Phillies’ 2008 World Series championship caused me to say that my sports needs had been totally sated. However, each year the yearning to follow my teams still remained.

I have to admit that more than once I have been so disgusted with a team’s ineptness (usually the Phillies) and losing ways that I vow to jump ship and be through with them. No more wasted time, thoughts and energy. Yet once you have a real love for someone or something, you stick with them through thick and thin. We fans think that our teams owe us wins and championships because we are so dedicated to them. Yet we never practice with them, never are in the game, never sacrifice anything like sweat, blood and our bodies. We may buy their memorabilia, but we are just fans and fickle ones at that.

I would surmise approximately 70% of Americans would say they are “Christians” or would identify themselves with the “team” of Jesus. Is there evidence of that? If 70% of Americans claimed to be Philadelphia Eagles fans, I would expect to see lots of green and black Eagles’ caps, sweatshirts, T-shirts, bumper stickers, banners, etc., everywhere.

Before Jesus completed his earthly mission and ascended back to heaven, he gave his followers important instructions in what we call The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). “Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe (do, obey, follow) all things that I have commanded you and lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.” Notice that we are not to make or influence people to be converts, church goers, church members or good, religious citizens but rather disciples of Jesus Christ.

So what exactly are disciples? First, they are BELIEVERS in Jesus, putting their full faith and trust in him alone for the forgiveness of their sins and eternal life (John 1:12; 3:16).

Disciples are also FOLLOWERS or adherents of Jesus. An adherent sticks closely to the one he is following and is not detached, far away or just an occasional “tag along.” Jesus said that his sheep “hear my voice and follow me” (John 10:27).

Disciples are STUDENTS of Jesus, ever learning from Him. The Greek word for “disciple” means “a learner, pupil, apprentice” (Matthew 10:24).

Finally, disciples are IMITATORS of Jesus. Romans 8:29 says believers are saved to be conformed or molded to the image of Christ. Jesus stated that “It is enough for a disciple to be like his teacher” (Matthew 10:25). Paul urged his readers to “Imitate me just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

I ask you, “How many people do you actually see believing and trusting Jesus for salvation, constantly following and obeying him, ever learning from and of him, and actually seeking to imitate and be like him?”

One scholar said of a former student, “He attended my lectures but was not one of my students.” Could it be that there are many fickle, fair weather fans of Jesus but few faithful believers, followers, students, imitators and true blue disciples of Jesus? Does your discipleship of Jesus exceed the fanship of your favorite sports teams? Are you truly a disciple of Jesus? I surely want to be known as a true disciple of Jesus much more than a Philly sports fan. I trust you are on the spiritual team of Jesus that wins the “championship” for all eternity!

Bob Kulp is the pastor of Grace Brethren Church, 24775 C.R. 20 East (Mishawaka Road), Elkhart, 574-875-5271.

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