Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Our Cost is Our Gain


Following God comes with a cost.  That is something I am experiencing now in my own life.  Do not get me wrong, the reward far outweighs the cost and it is the hope of that final reward that keeps us going.  Many teachers like to talk all about reward and never mention the cost.  What that does is create carnal Christians who live constantly with one foot in the world.  Sadly, they have either forgotten or ignored the example of Jesus who warns us to count the cost before deciding to follow Jesus.  Here is what Jesus says.
If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has [enough] to finish [it]-- lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see [it] begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? "Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.  Luke 14:26-33 NKJV
We see here that following the Lord comes with a very steep cost.  It costs us everything.  It costs our families, our stuff, our goals in life, our friends, and maybe even our very lives.  All of it must be expendable when it comes to being a discipline of Jesus Christ.  Nothing must come before God.  Nothing must be more important to us than our relationship to Jesus.  Nothing must hold us back from following the Lord wherever He may take us.  Some love to teach that the life of a Christian is pie-in-the-sky easy and filled with material wealth and riches.  Jesus teaches us differently.  Jesus tells us that it will not be easy.  Jesus teaches us that many will have to give up families.  Jesus teaches that many will have to give up all that they own.  Jesus not only teaches, but promises us persecution. 

Perhaps to some of you that may sound discouraging.  I think that is the point.  Jesus wants us to sit down and make sure we understand the commitment to God we are making.  Jesus wants us to count the cost of following Him.  Jesus has little use for lukewarm followers who think they are following God by making some meaningless shallow confession of faith in a savior who they claim to love but of a Lord they hate by the lives they live.  We are not called to be mere converts then go about living our fallen worldly lives.  We are called to be disciples.  We are called to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ on earth.  We are called to be children of God.  And we are not called to be those things in some abstract positional belief that we are those things "spiritually" but to actually be those things in real life.  The positional is meaningless without the actual to follow.  I mean to say that we are righteous in Christ so I have no use to worry about righteousness in my life is a rather silly argument. Actually, silly is a polite term.  It is false doctrine that should be condemned vehemently.   
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?  Romans 6:1-2 NKJV
The idea of positional theology as the be-all end-all until glory denies the Word of God that says differently. Just as faith without works is dead, so is positional theology without actual experience. 

That said let us take a closer look at what our Lord is saying.  He begins "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. "  Jesus is not saying we should hate our parents or anyone else for that matter.  Hatred is never a fruit of the spirit.  What Jesus is saying is that our love for Him must surpass even those in this world we love the most.  Again, these are not just some empty words of an abstract theological notion, but real life Christianity.  Many who comes to the Lord, especially those with unsaved relatives, must choose the Lord over them constantly.  This is even true with a saved family.  We must put the call of the Lord over and above our draw to our families.  Some missionaries are called to far off lands to only see their families a couple of times a year, if even that, if even at all.  Some are called to a church away from their families.  Some are called to move to a different area of the country.   The point is that if our love for our family is above that of our Lord, we will not be able to follow Him wherever He calls us.  We can not say we are a follower of Jesus if we do not follow Him.  Jesus then says that we must even hate our own life in comparison to our love for the Lord.  Death is the ultimate separation from those whom we love in this world. Even in marriage, it is "until death do us part."  We can not even let our love for our own lives keep us from following the Lord.  Many have been called to part from their earthly home for the sake of the cross.  When Jesus calls us to follow Him, He literally means wherever that may take us, even if to our eternal home.

Jesus continues "And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple."  We are called to live a crucified life.  That is we are to deny ourselves in obedience to God.  Jesus taking up the cross was a matter of submission to the will of the Father.  In the Garden, on the eve of his trial and crucifixion, he asked the Father to take the cup of suffering away from Him that He was about to endure. However, despite his rather normal aversion to the excruciating pain and humiliation of being crucified and despite His hatred of the sin He was about to take upon Himself, He submitted Himself to the will of the father.  So must we do the same. There are many thing in life that we do not want to give up but will be called to give up for the Lord.  There may be things in life that we, in the flesh, do not want to do but must do in our submission to God.  This is why we must be willing to give up anything in our lives for the Lord.  It is impossible to follow Him otherwise. 

Jesus then tells us the importance of counting the cost.  He says " For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has [enough] to finish [it]-- lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see [it] begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.'"  Have you ever seen a building construction halted before it was complete because the contractor ran out of money?  It becomes a point of contention of reflects very poorly on the builder who did not properly count the cost.  Sadly, this same thing happens to Christians who do not count the cost.  They come to Christ with an incomplete Gospel message and when they face the inevitable persecution for their decision or if the Holy Spirit begins convicting them of the the sin that remains in their life, they grow frustrated and turn away from God.  They give up.  The testimony of their new-found faith has become mockery for an incomplete work that ultimately reflects poorly on God.  We must count the cost of the work God wants to do in us before we make a commitment to His working in us.  Jesus wants us to know what we are getting ourselves into so when those trials come we are able to come through them with our faith intact. 

Jesus then says "Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace."  Our walk with God is a spiritual war.  Satan will try to discourage us, tempt us, dissuade us, and anything else he can to get us away to turn away from God.  We must share the truth of the war to come and the assurance of victory in Christ.  Talking about victory but not talking about the war is a meaningless incomplete message.  Those newborn babes will be unprepared for the flaming darts directed their way and will throw their hands up in surrender when the fighting starts.

And Jesus ends where He began.  He says "So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple."  If you do not give up all that you have and all that you are for Jesus, you can not be His disciple.  It is impossible to truly follow Jesus when anything in our lives comes before Him.  

And that brings me to why this was even on my heart today.  My wife are I are in the midst of many important decisions.  There is no one answer that does not mean giving something up.  When I am in a situation like this, I tend to fixate on a song.  Some of you who know me may be rolling their eyes right now!  It is a weird quirk in my personality, but when I hear about someone going through something comparable it allows me to look at things from the outside.  This time, the lyrics that I have been fixated on are.
And so the journey starts
Communion of our hearts
He led me to a place beside the water
And as our season grew
The time came when I knew
The path led from among my band of brothers

And I can't describe how hard it was
Or how much we loved each other

But to go on with the summer
On with the tide
To go on I must surrender
The fullness of my life
And I'll love you forever
But I must say goodbye
To go on I must cross over -- "Crossing Over" Neal Morse
In this case, it was about a man leaving a band and a career in secular music right at the time when the band received a lucrative record deal.  God was calling him away from his friends and moving him to more of a life at home with his wife and family.  For me, my wife and I are being called to leave something or somethings.  How it all pans out in the end only God knows at this point, but things are not sustainable as they are now.  One or both of us will have to leave our jobs, jobs we have worked at for years and have developed relationships at.  We may have to move closer to my job or I may have to find a job closer to where we are now.  We may have to leave her family who have been a part of her daily life since she was born and for me since we were married.  We will have to leave a church that while having many close friends and family, it is just not a place where I believe we can be fed as Christians in such a way for us to grow.  We may have to finally say goodbye to what has been our church family-in-exile since we have been married and a church that despite moving away I have never stopped considering to be my true home church.  Then again, if we are called to move closer to my job they will once again be that family I miss seeing regularly.  What I want is a nice house with a large yard for a good sized garden to grow Summer vegetables and to just be able to relax taking care of it.  What I want is to be near the ocean but not so near where I get all the ocean traffic.  What I want are guests often sharing in the fellowship of our Lord and the time to really pursue my cooking hobby.  What I want is a church family closer than any earthly family built firmly on the Word of God.  What I want are my own children playing in the yard and watch grow up through the years.  For a vocation, I want to be in full-time ministry.  What I want is to share all this with my wife in the glorious union of the two we were made one in Christ.  But what I want even more than any of that is the life that God has for me.  I say that because I know that what God wants for me is better than anything else I can imagine.  If God should bless me with all of that fine, if not, then that is fine too just so long as I am where He wants me to be and enjoying the life that He has for me.  I know my wife and I will have to say goodbye to some things or even everything, and I know that the cost of living God's will for our lives will not come easy.  

The amazing thing, though, about not just my life but for all of us who count the cost for the Lord and live willing to pay that cost is that in the end we will gain.  You see when we step out in faith and show we are willing to pay the cost, God will reward us with gain.  We give up our lives and God gives us eternal life.  We give up our hearts and God gives us a new heart.  We give up all that we are and God makes us a new creation.  We give up sinful temporary pleasures of the flesh and God gives us the fruit of the Holy Spirit living inside our hearts.  I know that my wife and I will have to give some things up, but I also know we will gain so much more.  That is just how it works in the gloriously wonderfully amazing economics of our Lord.  Please, count the costs and when you share the Gospel, share the costs.  They may seem high, but they are oh so worth it.  They may work to discourage some, but better to be discouraged with the truth than defeated for lack of knowledge of the cost to come.  In the end, it is always worth it.  In the end, you gain so much more than it ever cost. 
So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time--houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions--and in the age to come, eternal life.  Mark 10:29-30 NKJV

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