counting the cost

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If 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. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Luke 14:25-35

Jesus didn’t care about popularity, or even about being misunderstood, it seems. It’s not that Jesus didn’t want people to understand and follow. It’s simply that he knew better than to think that everyone would, in fact, just the opposite. He assumed most people would not (Luke 13:22-30; Matthew 7:13-14).

This passage fits into the “hard sayings of Jesus”. Hating loved ones, as well as one’s own life is not to be taken literally. It is a way of helping one understand just how supreme one’s allegiance to Jesus is to be. So that the disciple who does love their family, and in the proper sense their own life as well, does so out of their supreme devotion and allegiance to Jesus. And ironically to not love Jesus in that way would mean that one loves others and one’s self all the less. But when push comes to shove, there’s only one God and one Lord that we give our hearts completely to. And in so doing we find that there’s plenty of love to go around for everyone, even for, as Jesus taught us, our enemies.

We might as well face reality, because there’s no escape from it. Following Jesus in this world is not always going to be easy, and sometimes will end with the ultimate sacrifice. Indeed that was what Jesus was referring to in this passage, that whoever wants to follow him would have to take up their own cross, which meant one thing at that time: crucifixion. Jesus knew that only those who understood something of what they were getting into, would persevere. The call is stark here, but it is in the rest of scripture. We’re to have no other gods before God, and we’re to realize that the world in which we live is no friend of God’s. This is throughout all of scripture from almost the very beginning, to close to the very end.

Jesus calls us to count the cost. And to realize that unless we give up everything we have, we cannot be his disciple, which means his follower. It’s a matter of allegiance, as well as trust. It involves giving our all to the One who gave his all for us on the cross.

Jesus deserves all of this devotion because he is God. But also because he as God is completely human, one of us. So that he takes us with him on the one true way to life, through his death and resurrection. May we have God’s grace to follow, and keep following to the very end. In and through Jesus.

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doing what we can

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

I once heard an excellent message from Elisa Morgan on the woman whom Jesus commended because she simply did what she could. In that case it was indeed lavish, but in a sense it was limited when you think about it. Both in terms of a past she couldn’t change and the present which would likely be difficult for her in that society. But the future had promise since she would indeed be a part of the society of Jesus.

Oftentimes we wish we could do something big and important, something that will have eternal impact. We lose sight of how God’s kingdom in Jesus works. It works through the smallest of seeds to the blessing of many. God does not despise the day of seemingly small things.

We need to think in terms of what we can do, specifically what God is leading us to do. God surely moved in the heart of this sinful woman (we are all sinners of course, by the way) to do what she did, although surely at the same time it was something that in all her uniqueness she thought through and chose to do. The same goes for us. How can we express our love and gratitude to the Lord for sins forgiven and new life? How can we honor him and be a blessing to others?

Doing what we can is actually what it’s all about* for all of us in the way of Jesus.

*Or one might say, the goal of our faith expressed out of love in the way of Jesus.

meditation for Maundy Thursday

The night before Jesus was crucified, he did for his disciples what only the lowest of slaves did when he washed his disciples feet. Of course Peter objected, but Jesus then seemed to apply it in some spiritual sense, that if Peter didn’t submit to this foot washing, he would have no part with Jesus. Peter then bursts forth with the words, “Then Lord, not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well.” But Jesus then pointed out that those who have had a bath only need their feet washed. And that his disciples were clean, though not every one of them.

In washing his disciples feet, Jesus showed them the full extent of his love, or he loved them to the end. And set them an example that as he had done for them, they also were to do for each other.

After predicting his betrayal, Jesus then taught them a new command. They were to love one another. As he had loved them, they were to love each other. That is how the world would know that they were his disciples, if they loved each other in this way.

In all our weakness do we endeavor to live this out? To follow the way of our Savior and Lord in loving each other, even as we carry our cross? We can do so by meditating on Jesus’ example to us. And seeking to live that out in practical ways of service to each other.

Even as we look to the one who in love gave himself for us, and for the world.

A suggested reading for todayJohn 13:1-17, 31b-35

returning to the love we had at first

This week in our chapel at RBC Ministries, we heard a message from Jesus’ letters to the seven churches, the first one, addressed to the church in Ephesus. It was a church that was doing all the right things evidently, and yet was in danger of losing out altogether because they had forsaken the love they had at first, probably referring to their first love for Christ. The message was in terms of remember, repent and return. It was good, and touched me deeply as I reflected on it afterwards.

The speaker pointed out that romance in some ways is similar. My own words  (I suppose) along with his in describing that: We fall head over heels in love and can do nothing but think of them all the time. After marriage, in time our relationship can become routine, and fall into a rut. And then our eyes might rove, or wander to someone else. And that can happen in our relationship with Jesus.

I have wondered sometimes, probably many times, just why I can’t seem to break free from some fears or anxieties. Not that I haven’t had other struggles as well, but anxiety issues have been a major issue, sometimes largely choking the word of God that was in me. The thought came to mind, and it began to dawn on me that one key I was lacking and perhaps the most important one (though others are essential, such as loving our neighbor), is the lack of a deep love relationship with the Lord. That is not to say that I don’t deeply love the Lord, or know something of the depths of his love for me. It is saying that far too often in my life, that was more of a head thing than a heart thing.

What is true of our individual walk as believers, is certainly true of an entire church (thinking local church) as was true of the church in Ephesus. In fact Jesus was addressing a community, of course made up of individuals. They had, in the words of Jesus, forsaken the love they had at first.  Somehow they were to return to that first glow, to that first love. Hopefully deeper, but as the motivation, the driving force (if that’s an acceptable way to put it) of their lives and service.

How is our love life with the Lord? And then with each other in Jesus? And with all others in the world? This gets at the heart of what is to be our hearts in and through Jesus, as we walk through this life together in him for the world.

becoming like Jesus

It is one thing to join Paul in desiring to be like Jesus. Hopefully a desire born in us by the Spirit, certainly so if it’s genuine and true. But it’s another thing to begin to enter into that. As Jesus told his disciples of old, James and John, who wanted to sit at his right hand and left in his kingdom: “Are you able to drink the cup that I will drink, and be baptized with the baptism I’m to undergo?” Their ready reply, “We are able,” was surely breathtakingly unaware of just what they were saying. Though I think even in their ignorance, there was something of God in this, to reveal to them their shallow and even deceptive hearts in helping them along the way of Jesus. Indeed Jesus told them, “You will drink the cup I drink, and be baptized with the baptism I will undergo. But to sit at my right hand and left is not for me to give, but will be given by my Father.”

Becoming like Jesus is to live in this world as he lived. It is certainly in God’s love, but it is within the realm of the world, the flesh and the devil, all in joint opposition against God and God’s purposes in Jesus. We will begin to think the thoughts of Jesus, and desire to act and love as he did. Of course we won’t be sinless in this life, but we will want to live in a holy love; we will pursue holiness.

Our desire to become like Jesus will be tested. It will expose our hearts at times, and our choices will determine the depths to which we go in this. At the same time it is God’s grace that will make all the difference. Never does God despise a broken and contrite heart, one that is truly sorry and grieves over their sin, or weakness. Some of our weaknesses may actually not be sinful in themselves. But they may indeed be weights which hinder us in following Jesus and becoming like him.

When I find myself up against something such as that, I need to pray for grace, and for God’s help to live in a way that brings glory to God. That is bent on living in a way that is pleasing to God, which of course is part of God’s grace in us having such a desire in the first place. We have the promise as we hold on to it that God will fulfill every longing and desire he gives us in and through Jesus.

Becoming like Jesus is not just about my individual walk with God. It is about living in community with others in Jesus. That’s where the rubber often meets the road, because then our devotion, indeed desire, can be tested. Are we desirous to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace, come what may? Or do we bail out, ready to protect ourselves at all costs, and reticent to forgive the wrongs done to us?

And becoming like Jesus is about being on mission to the world with others in Jesus. We each have our part to fulfill as part of that witness. It is in terms of both doing good to all people, and proclaiming the good news of King Jesus. Jesus is our life and God’s will in him our goal. If we are becoming closer and closer to Jesus in fellowship with him and therefore becoming more like him, we will indeed want to be in the Father’s will by the working and power of the Spirit.

Becoming like Jesus. A good thought indeed, and a tall order to be sure. But part of God’s good will for us in which God can and will see us through in and through Jesus.

Thomas à Kempis on following Jesus in love to participate in his sufferings

Jesus today has many who love his heavenly kingdom, but few who carry his cross; many who yearn for comfort, few who long for distress. Plenty of people he finds to share his banquet, few to share his fast. Everyone desires to take part in his rejoicing, but few are willing to suffer anything for his sake. There are many that follow Jesus as far as the breaking of bread, few as far as drinking the cup of suffering; many that revere his morality, few that follow him in the indignity of his cross; many that love Jesus as long as nothing runs counter to them; many that praise and bless him, as long as they receive comfort from him; but should Jesus hide from them and leave them for awhile, they fall to complaining or becoming deeply depressed.

Those who love Jesus for his own sake, not for the sake of their own comfort, bless him in time of trouble and heartache as much as when they are full of consolation.

Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, trans Ronald Knox and Michael Oakley (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1959) 2.9, 76-77 quoted by David E. Garland, Mark (The NIV Application Commentary), 338.