“Heartfelt, Humble Steps”

This article was originally published in “The Oakdale Chronicles” on October 18, 2013. Following our individual paths to freedom is really all about following Jesus Christ, and in this article I wrote about a book that had impacted me greatly while I was in prison. I hope you enjoy it:

“I AM DEFINITELY NOT A FAN OF JESUS CHRIST!”

When we look at ourselves in a mirror, it seems that many of us are not 100% satisfied with the image that is reflected back at us. This is evidenced by the inordinate amount of time we spend in FRONT of mirrors determining what needs fixing or improving, and by the truly exorbitant amounts of money that are spent buying products to change, color, or cover-up those things which we have deemed to be less than perfect in our eyes.

I would like us all to consider for a moment the amount of time WE spend in front of a mirror, and the various routines and rituals that we go through each day, sometimes several times a day.

So much concern, so much attention, and so much worry, and every bit of it is focused on something that is merely a protective wrapper for those parts of the human body that ARE important and DO carry significance in our lives. Sadly, many of us are far too concerned with thinking about the wrapping paper to the exclusion of thinking about the gift.

The human heart is one such gift. It is a gift from God of immeasurable worth on many levels. Without God’s gift of a heart, none of us would even be able to STAND in front of a mirror, least of all be concerned about what we see there. Although I understand that there are many individuals who are extremely health conscious and watch what they eat, make sure they exercise properly, and do not place unnecessary burdens upon their heart by ingesting tobacco, alcohol, or drugs, far too many of us take its physical function for granted and hardly give its care and maintenance any thought at all.

While the physical functioning of our hearts is vital to our very ability to live on this earth, the role our hearts play in our spiritual lives is vital to our ability to follow Jesus Christ to our promise of an everlasting life in the Kingdom of God. You see, the heart was not placed within our bodies merely to move the blood through our veins to carry oxygen to the other components of our bodies. The heart is mentioned prominently throughout the Holy Bible as being a critical part of our ability to be who God wants us to be.

Our brains are an incredible and wondrous creation of God which give us the ability to think, talk, see, process information, learn, teach, and so on, but our hearts enable us to exhibit all of the traits that comprise our humanity and define us as children of God. Our ability to love, to be patient, compassionate, kind, generous, humble, considerate, caring, gentle…..all of these things and more come from the heart. How do we know this? Because it is in the Bible. Jesus Christ Himself said, “Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29 NLT).

How about that? Jesus Christ Himself said that humility and gentleness come from the heart. He also said, “God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8 NLT). But not only does Jesus tell us how our hearts can help us to be like him, and how they can help us see God, He also tells us how to LOVE God: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37 NLT).

David, who was considered Israel’s greatest king, wrote, “I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart.” (Psalm 40:8 NLT).

These are just a few of the many references found in the Holy Bible that demonstrate the important role played by our hearts in our spiritual lives.

So I ask these questions of us all:

How much time do we spend examining our HEARTS? Do we spend anywhere close to the same amount of time looking for flaws, weaknesses, and imperfections in our hearts as we spend looking for those things in our faces and bodies?

Not too long ago, I came across a book written by Kyle Idleman, who is the Teaching Pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. The title of the book is “not a fan.” (the lower case and use of the ‘period’ is exactly as the title appears on the book), and the question that Pastor Idleman asks, which comprises the basis for the entire book, is: “Are you a committed follower of Jesus Christ, or are you just a fan?”

Pastor Idleman’s work is more than just a book. It is a finely crafted tool that can be put to work by everyone who is willing to exercise honest introspection and perform a complete examination of that precious gift from God – the heart. The book itself will tend to make many of us a bit uncomfortable at times, but as the case for Christ is presented, Pastor Idleman leaves no question as to exactly WHAT it means to BE committed to following Jesus.

The title of this article may have been disconcerting for some of you, but after reading ‘not a fan.’ and using it to perform a thorough examination of my OWN heart, I can honestly and emphatically state that “I am most definitely NOT a fan of Jesus Christ! I AM a committed follower!”

Since I determined that I am, in fact, committed to following Christ, was the time spent reading the book time that could have been put to better use? The answer to that is an emphatic and unequivocal, “Absolutely NOT!” The book was a valuable tool that assisted me in my self-examination. It acted as the mirror with which to view my heart, and provided me with the ability to see what my strengths were, and where I needed to work, grow, and change.

You see, it is important to understand that being able to say that we are committed to following Christ does NOT mean that we are perfect or that there is not room for spiritual growth or improvement. In fact, “not a fan.” makes us AWARE of our imperfections, which is necessary because then we are forced to focus more intently on Christ as we look to His perfect example as a model for our own lives.

As I devoured page after page, I began to see the path that I am on with greater clarity and understanding. I discovered that, not only was I following Christ, but I realized that He had been actively LEADING me for quite some time. As I looked back to that moment, over 4 years ago, when I first put my eyes upon Him and said, “I can’t do this anymore. I need your help.” I saw that He had been leading me along the path He wanted me to take and He did it by leaving what I can only describe as “Spiritual Bread Crumbs” for me to follow.

As a crucial part of my own self-examination, I looked for evidence that I was, indeed, following Christ. Looking back over those years, I could see that those “Spiritual Bread Crumbs” I had been picking up had left a clearly delineated path. That path stretched from where I now stand, all the way back to the hospital bed in which I awoke the day after God saved me from myself. I am aware that there are probably those who love me who think that it is best that I just forget about my attempted suicide and move on, but oddly enough, that attempt to end my life actually signifies the BEGINNING of it. (Author’s note: For more information regarding that suicide attempt, please refer to previous articles under the heading of “Evil Is Seductive” which began in August 2010 ).

Unbeknownst to me at that time, God began immediately to leave those ‘crumbs’ for me to pick up as He moved me in the direction He wanted me to go. Shortly after arriving here at Oakdale, He revealed a plan to me. I refer to it as my “Jeremiah 29:11″ because that particular verse from the Bible says “For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” (NLT). It was an ambitious plan of service to others and I have focused on that plan almost daily since it was revealed to me. I did not initially understand HOW I would ever get to the point, financially, where I would be able to DO what I envisioned, but I knew in my heart that the steps to bring that plan to reality would be determined by God in His time. God shows me where to place my feet by leaving another ‘crumb’ for me to pick up. My goal is to be ever vigilant to watch for them and be sure to pick them up.

Walking along His path, I constantly discovered the next person, the next book, the next idea, the next thought, and the next article for these Chronicles; I have written each of the 366 daily devotionals for “Today Is….A Gift From God” with plans to publish it as an e-book in December; each and every detail and experience is another ‘crumb’, and each one of those is, in itself, a gift from God. Following Christ is not just a casual stroll through the park. It is the discovery of oneself and one’s purpose in life.

After reading the book, I discovered that the chapel library had the “not a fan.” DVD series, which was designed for small study groups. I watched the series with Richard Roy, with whom regular readers of “The Chronicles” should be familiar with, and we spent considerable time ‘walking the track’ discussing the impact and importance of all that we had read and watched. The DVD series brought the book to life and creates a potent and effective combination with which to define one’s relationship with Christ.

“not a fan.” helped me to see what I most likely knew all along, but was too unsure of myself to say out loud. It IS, after all, rather frightening to live the way that I lived for over 40 years and then feel oneself actually DIE and become a different person. It’s an impossibly wonderful feeling that is met by skepticism, doubt, and wariness by many who have not experienced it, or who might have known me in the past and find it a significant stretch of the imagination to accept my ‘rebirth’.

“not a fan.” did not create the experience for me, but it was a phenomenal tool in helping me to define it, clarify it, and improve upon it.

Where do we go when we follow Christ? The path for each person is different, but they all lead to the same glorious everlasting life with God when our journey through this life has drawn to a close.

I am 60 years old, yet I feel that I have just now BEGUN my life on this earth. It is exciting to know that death can lead to such a rewarding life. I thank Kyle Idleman for helping me to see clearly that I am most definitely NOT a fan of Jesus Christ! Let him help you as well.

I also thank God. I thank Him often, and I thank Him with humility, love, and joy.

God bless you all, and thank you for your time.

About Tony Casson

" For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT)
This entry was posted in A Thousand First Steps and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “Heartfelt, Humble Steps”

  1. Diane S says:

    I have this book, sitting on book case. Where it’s been since I bought it at a $5 sale at Lifeway Bookstore 6 months ago. I think I’ll read it now…

    Like

    • Tony Casson says:

      I found mine on the lid of a trash can in my housing unit at Oakdale. Let me know what you think. I loaned it to about 12 other men before I left, and had it here at the Mission with me. I gave it to a homeless woman I met up near Union Station I used to talk with in the mornings. I should get another.

      Like

  2. Diane W says:

    Like

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