Monday, September 6, 2010

counting the cost

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

When I moved back to Austin in May of 2008 I bought a house. If you don’t know me, I’m not really a “handyman” so to speak. On mission trips that involve building and nailing and sawing I’m always the supervisor. I don’t know the difference between a buzz saw and a jigsaw. When it comes to skilled labor I am completely unskilled. But it took trying to fix things myself to figure this out and I’ll tell you who the culprit is – Home Depot. Home Depot has this heinous slogan. “You can do it. We can help.” I can do it? If by that Home Depot means electrocute yourself, destroy hard wood floors, rip un-repairable holes in your wall and buy things you can’t assemble than yes – I can do it. Home Depot gave me a false sense of confidence. They told me I was competent, that I could do it – that all I needed was a little help. “You can do it. We can help!”

Far too often we take a Home Depot approach to Christianity. We make faith about pursuing our own agenda and look to Jesus for help when things don’t go our way. But if we think Jesus came to help us with our lives we’re mistaken. For the last 2,000 years Christians have confessed Jesus as their Lord – not as their assistant. In tonight’s Gospel Jesus is clear. He’s not here to help with our life – he’s here to take it. To follow Jesus is to make everything in our lives second to Him – our family, our agenda, our possessions. Jesus loves us too much to settle for a piece of our lives. He wants the whole thing.

Now, just to be clear, Jesus doesn’t want us to hate our family. In fact, let me read the last verse of the entire Old Testament, which is a Messianic prophecy. “He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents.” In other words, Malachi says the Messiah will restore family relationships. But, the great irony is that we can only love our family to the extent that we learn to love God more. The Greek word translated hate has nothing to do with our emotions. No, Jesus is using hyperbole. His word is meant to be an arrow that pierces our heart and makes us ask, “Where’s my ultimate loyalty? Is it to my family? To my agenda? To my possessions? Or, is my ultimate loyalty with Jesus?” Jesus’ desire is not to help us with our life. His desire is to take our life and remake it. Jesus loves us too much to settle for a piece of our lives. He wants the whole thing.

The “crowds” in today’s Gospel don’t seem to understand that. In the context of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is marching to Jerusalem fully aware of the cross that awaits Him. You see Jesus knows what the crowds do not – that saving the world is costly. It’s going to require a bloody death on a Roman cross. But the crowds – they want magic and miracles. And so in tonight’s Gospel Jesus is clear. “You’re welcome to follow me. I want you to follow me. But, there’s a cost. It requires putting me first – before your family, your agenda, and your possessions. If you follow me to my cross you’ll have to embrace a cross of your own. And so count the cost. After all, you wouldn’t haphazardly build a tower or go to war. No, you’d first assess the cost and then make a decision. All I’m asking for is the same consideration. Following me will cost everything.”

And so here’s the question tonight’s Gospel demands that we ask. Where’s our ultimate loyalty? Is it to our parents? Parents are really good at deceiving themselves into thinking they should run your life. And you know what? They should when you’re six or sixteen. But, you’re an adult now. Your parents may want one thing for you life but God may want something else. James and John’s dad wanted them to be fisherman but Jesus called them to leave their boat behind. Symbolically speaking, you may have to do the same thing to be faithful. Or maybe our ultimate loyalty is to our own agenda. Perhaps our ambition for ourselves is so great that everything else, including our parents and friends, takes a backseat. Or maybe we’re seeking some other possession – money, fame, respect, the perfect body, the perfect image. Maybe we want this person’s love or that person’s approval. Where’s our ultimate loyalty? What do we love the most? Jesus? Or something else?

Listen – it’s impossible to love any thing or person too much. You can’t love your family too much. You can’t love your self too much. You can’t love your money too much. You can only love these things too much in proportion to your love for God. And by definition, that’s all sin is – loving something or someone more than we love God. And it’s something that all of us do. And so we need to be clear about Jesus’ desire in calling us. He doesn’t just want to help us. Jesus’ desire is to save us – to teach us the joy of seeking the Kingdom of God first. But, that lesson is costly. It requires learning to make Jesus the supreme treasure of our life – it means learning to love Him more than we love anything else.

Our problem isn’t that we love things too much – that’s impossible. Our problem is that we love God too little. Teaching us to love God – with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength – that’s ultimately what Jesus is about. That being said, it’s a costly lesson. Writing from the perspective of Jesus, this is how CS Lewis puts it:

“I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want you. I have not come to torment or frustrate [your natural self]. I’ve come to kill it. No half measures will do. Hand [your whole self] over to me – … all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will shall become your will. My heart shall become your heart.” In other words, Jesus says “I love you too much to settle for a piece of your life. I want the whole thing.”

And so here’s the million-dollar question. After counting the cost, where do we get the strength and the courage to give Jesus everything? Well, there’s something we have to see – Jesus only asks us to do for Him what He’s already done for us. Let us not think that in becoming human God was taking a risk. No, the Son of God first had to count the cost – the cost of becoming human; the cost of being rejected and killed; the cost of not just leaving His Father, but on the cross, being abandoned by His Father. Think about it. On the cross Jesus looked like a false Messiah – he was mistaken for a man that started something He wasn’t able to complete and people passing by began to ridicule him. “This fellow began to build,” they said, “and was not able to finish.” The Son of God had to count the cost. To save us Jesus had to march straight into battle not with ten thousand at his side but alone, and with no terms of peace. Before saving us, God first counted the cost. Jesus knew that our salvation would cost him everything. And here’s what’s so amazing. To God it was worth it.

To be a Christian is to believe that the One for whom and through whom all things exist gladly gave up everything for us. Do you see why Jesus isn’t the sort of person you ask to be your assistant? No – He’s someone that deserves our ultimate loyalty. And learning to give Jesus our life – it’s a lifelong process. I’ll be honest; there are a lot of things I haven’t turned over yet. When it comes to following Jesus we’re all just a little unskilled. And so as you go out into the world this week do me a favor – don’t try to fix things yourself. Hope Depot Christianity is a parody of the Gospel; the Gospel that says Jesus counted the cost and decided to fix things for us. Has that sunk in? Because to the extent that it does we can drop a possession here, and a possession there, and follow Jesus to the cross with a smile. Why? Because the One we follow counted the cost and apparently thought we were worth it.

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