Monday, September 7, 2009

The Cost of Following Christ is Great

Recently I’ve had one of those experiences where the same topic keeps coming up over and over again. I don’t know if anyone else experiences this phenomenon, but I’ve always noticed it since I was a child. For example, it seemed like sharks where effectively absent from my daily life until we started studying them in grade-school. Then I couldn’t get away from them. Shark TV shows, shark themed story-books, traveling shark themed circuses and shark fin soup seemed to suddenly overrun my young life all at once and stayed until we moved on to the next subject.

I may have just employed a healthy dose of hyperbole put hopefully you’re getting my point. Well recently a certain passage has kept coming up in reading and studying, in listening to lectures, and in my own conversations. While I don’t believe the full assault of shark mania upon my young life had much ecclesiastical purpose, I think that perhaps as I sit down and contemplate a point at which to launch this periodical discussion there is a reason for the reoccurrence. At any rate, this passage is the topic I have decided upon and if you are reading this then I must not have become compelled to change my mind.

The passage is Luke 14:28-30:

28"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

I am continually impressed by the multifaceted nature of scripture: its ability to having meaningful application on several levels from the simplest pragmatism to the loftiest theology. Just recently the occasion for considering a future building project of my own has arisen, and that’s interestingly one of the contexts in which this passage has been nudging me. In my vanity, one of the thoughts that actually ran through my mind is how ridiculous I’d look to “everyone who sees it” if I started trying to build a place but didn’t have the money or capabilities to finish it.

But what did Jesus mean when he spoke this to the crowd of followers? If you read the rest of the chapter, which I heartily encourage you to do, it’s clear that He is using this analogy to speak of the high cost of being his disciple (or student, if you will). Unlike an ordinary rabbi, Jesus welcomed and invited everyone to follow Him, but the words He spoke in this passage might not be appealing to most. Likewise, I will be careful not to sugar coat the matter as well; neither for you nor for myself.

It seems that the average evangelical ministry today employs several kinds of marketing strategies or coercive tactics to “win people to the Lord”—as if he couldn’t make do for himself. From the extreme to the subtle, both the counterfeit and the sincere ministry leaders across the church are actively, and sometimes aggressively, engaged in trying to bring in as many new men, women, and children as they can possible fit into their ever expanding worship facilities. I do not mean to paint every fellowship from here to Papa New Guinea as being lead by nothing more than the likes of shady used car sales men, but I do believe that there are important parts of the Gospel that tend to get left behind. We’re going to discuss just one.

It is my experience that these new attendees will very rarely hear the simple truth of the few passages we are going to address in the discussion: The cost of following Christ is great. In fact, the cost is everything. Jesus says so himself in the very next passage of Ch. 14. The analogy mirrors the first:

31"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus is saying that it’s basically common sense to make sure you can see any big decision through to the end before making a commitment. These two passages, back to back, highlight the importance of understanding just how much this endeavor will ask of us before we start and then answering our inevitable next question of “Well how much is that?” with a simple word: “everything”.

You see, Jesus wasn’t interested in piling on the followers just for the sake of adding arbitrary numbers. He didn’t care about giving a report on Sunday morning about how many children were coerced into raising their hands and repeating a canned prayer that they won’t begin to be able to understand for several more years. He didn’t have a mortgage on a church building to pay and thus had no need to increase any coffers. In fact, it was just the opposite.

In verse 25 we see that at this time Jesus already had a large following. I imagine there being present enough people to make most ministers today envious. Instead of trying to convince, coerce, or beg them to stay, He needed to make sure they knew how great a price would be asked of them if they continued with Him. By actually reading the words Jesus speaks throughout the gospels it almost makes one wonder if he wasn’t sometimes trying to actually get rid of people. We know He wasn’t. He loved every single person and desired a relationship with each, but that being so they needed to know the truth about the standard He’d set with His coming.

If you’re reading this you’re probably someone close to me that I care a great deal about. If you have already begun to follow in the footsteps of the Rabbi, these passages are important for us to remember. We are asked to abandon everything we might otherwise call ours and make Him our sole desire. This pilgrimage is not called Christianity Plus Comfort or Christianity Plus Popular Culture. On the contrary, Jesus told his followers that “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head”1.

For those that might be reading this who don’t call Jesus their Lord, I assure you that He is waiting for you. But it is important to know, whether you think you are light years away from even admitting God is or you’re actively hiding from the Savior who you hear knocking at your back door, you understand that the Kingdom of God, the Gospel of the Lord, is about you giving yourself up to share in His life—and in that, you ultimately find the self you’d never had before. And if you ever accept the ransom He came here and provided, you do so as an exchange. All you are for all of Him. That is the price of the ransom he paid for you, and that is what you owe to Him if you accept his freedom.

Many people might think this is not the best place to start in a discussion that I believe is going include some people very dear to me that I hope to eventually see join me in following Jesus. It would probably also be argued that there is no need to talk about the hard truths of the gospel so long as soft evangelism is “bringing souls into heaven”.

To the latter I’d argue that the church is now seeing the results of their abandonment of scripture as the greater culture is migrating in a mass exodus away from what the modern church is offering as religion. Inside the church there is a lack of substance and truth, and those outside seem to recognize the familiar void.

If we decide to run this race we are to run with abandonment. This is an all or nothing deal. To borrow a phrase from an old football coach: at the end of this game, we’re asked to “leave it all on the field”. Is it worth it? Absolutely. The Kingdom of God is the pearl of great price and that great treasure buried in a field2. But don’t just take my word for it.

1. 57As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."
58Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
59He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
60Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
61 Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family."
62Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."

2. 44"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.