“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32 ESV
A pastor friend of mine has a son who loves the game of golf. Like most of us, when he started playing with me and his dad, he struggled, and I enjoyed beating him and his dad on a regular basis. But over the past couple of years, he has improved his game to the point where he is beating me and has made his way as a key member of his high school golf team. After every match I usually get an update from him or his dad on how he did. One day my phone rang, and it was Zeke calling me from his practice. The kid got a hole in one! Are you kidding me. I have been playing for years and have never experienced this. He uses a junk ball in practice and parks one right in the cup. I did not know whether to be mad at him or happy.
While playing in a school golf match, he shot an incredible score. He shot one under par for a 35 for nine holes of golf. That is good for an amateur and high school golfer if you know the game of golf. As long as I have been playing, I have never shot a round of nine holes that well. I was so proud of him and the next day I learned he finished in a tie for first for the tournament. As his dad and I were discussing his round and his progress over coffee, a thought came to me. What made that 35 so special was that he did it while playing for his team. He was on the right course, wearing the team uniform and carrying the bag with his team name on it. He got there by riding on the team bus. The key to all of this is that he got on the bus that day to play for his team. That is what made the score stand out and up for his team.
He could have called me like he often does from another golf course that day and said he shot a 32 and it would have been exciting but would not have mattered much. If he decided to skip the match and go play another course on his own, the 35 means nothing, because it didn’t help the team. The bottom line is that it matters when we show up. It’s a big deal when those who say they are on the team come and give their best. When they are absent and isolated, it is the team that suffers.
God gave me a perspective of this from a team bus point of view. If you are on the team, you are riding the team bus. You belong there. When you do not show up, the coach wants to know where you are. There is a seat for you with the team as you travel to make a difference in the game or in this case for Zeke, the golf match. Now there may be other busses involved too. There are other forms of transportation to the game that describe our role in the game. Our church years ago offered a fan bus to take the faithful fans to away games for our local football program. People paid to get on the bus, enjoy snacks and a ride to cheer on the football team. They were not on the team. They were fans, spectators who were loyal to the team. Behind that fan bus was another form of transportation. Some people followed in their cars. Not wanting to ride the bus, they chose to come later and sit in the stands cheering with those who came on the fan bus. When I thought of this I looked at how the church in America often looks more like the fan bus and the parade of cars than it does the team bus.
Jesus in our scripture identifies what it truly means to be His disciple. He also said in another scripture that we must pick up our cross, die to our self and follow Him. He told the rich young ruler in another story to follow Him, but first go sell everything he had. The rich guy could not do that. He worked too hard to get what he had and to give that up to ride on the “Team Jesus” bus was too much to ask. He decided to take his own camel.
When we give our lives to Jesus, He is not asking us to be a fan, but rather a follower. Kyle Idleman has a great book about this called “Not A Fan”. Jesus wants us on the bus with Him to go where He is going and do what He is doing. He wants us during the week showing up for practice. He wants us hitting spiritual golf balls on the range getting our skills and talents zoned in to help the team. Or in football, doing the workouts to be ready to fight it out in the trenches. It is the practice that prepares us for what matters. When you are on the team, you run together, sweat together, work hard together to achieve the team goals.
If we decide to be only a fan, we may pledge our loyalty, buy our season passes and never miss a game, but in the end, what difference did we really make where it mattered? The team is on the field, the fans are in the stands. The team is making the plays, the fans are commenting on how they can do better. The team has put in the practice to give their best on the field of competition. The fans have studied stats to talk about while the players play. The team shows up on game days early, fans get there later, some after the game has started.
We in the American church can never miss a game, but never be on the team. We can know everything about the team, but never experience what it feels like to be on field. We can fill our lives with knowledge about Jesus but choose to only attend the home games when it is more convenient for our calendar. Jesus did not call us to follow from afar. Jesus died and was raised again because He made the way for us to be on His team. He wants us on His bus, in our right seats ready and in our right positions with our gifts and talents. He wants our passion to be for Him as we work with Him.
My golfing buddy Zeke made a memory, and he impacted a team because he got on the bus. It started there! The 35 counted on the scorecard because he was on the bus that took him to the course where his team was playing. He used his skill, his gift to contribute and it made a difference. We in the Church in America are no different. To be on Team Jesus we need to get on His bus. Quit playing rounds of spiritual golf that do not matter in enternity. Stop taking your own way to what God wants you to do with Him. Make a commitment to Jesus to follow Him. Get on the bus and get in the game.