Most of us in church work worry when attendance numbers go down; Jesus seemed to worry when they went up. He had what we might call “Thin ‘em out” sermons—messages he preached, it seems, to push people away. That wasn’t his intent, of course, but his message certainly didn’t fit well within any church growth book I’ve read.

We often try to make the gospel more palatable; Jesus gave it to the crowds straight and unmixed. Sometimes, when he finished preaching, people turned away and never came back. Today that kind of preacher might not be able to find a job, or, if he did, he probably wouldn’t keep it for long.

Here’s one of those short messages:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:34-39).

I wonder what he saw in the crowd that day. Had some of the folks misinterpreted him and thought following him meant an obstacle-free life? Did they think discipleship meant all-you-can-eat buffets and miracles-on-demand?

Whatever it was, Jesus felt the need to set them straight. And thin ‘em out. He wanted it to be crystal clear: following him meant rocky times ahead.

Some people—maybe even their families—wouldn’t understand their wholesale commitment to Jesus and would get angry, or worse. Disciples would be forced to choose between being martyred or turning away from Christ. It wouldn’t be for the faint of heart or the weak of faith.

This message, I think, is one our world needs now. It’s one we need. We live in the Bible Belt, and 84% of the people in our state call themselves Christians.

When the numbers are that high, and when you see myriad issues that are inconsistent with Christian faith, perhaps the Lord’s message to us would be the same as it was then.
Are we truly committed? Or do we have just enough Jesus to make us feel religious? I think these are tough but important questions we all need to ask ourselves.

We live in a culture that approves of the Christian label, as long as we don’t take it too seriously. Jesus says nothing could be more serious.

To borrow the words from a well-known book by Kyle Idleman, are we Jesus’ fans, or are we his followers?

There’s a huge difference. —Chuck


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