We, as a modern church body, have traditions and methods of doing things much like the rest of the Christians in our culture. We have a time of worship, some that come to the altar in prayer. We give to the church. We have programs for Bible Study, VBS, etc. And all these things are good, but, I want us to erase all of the preconceived notions of what church, and being a believer in Christ and walking as a disciple bring to mind, and listen to the following statements made directly by Jesus Christ Himself, to the crowd in His day.
As you are listening, before you think these statements are surely for more established or mature Christians, realize, all these statements are made to those just beginning to contemplate whether to become a disciple at all: Luke 14:25-33. Jesus says that nothing in your life can stand in comparison to how precious He is. Start by asking yourself if that is true in your life. Don't let the cliché of, "Bear his own cross" be taken lightly, as we usually do. When Jesus spoke these words to these first century Christians, they knew all too well what this described, and they were taken back, and appalled at what He meant. A man carrying a cross meant his life was over—this was his last walk—he was done in this world. [Does it sound like Jesus agrees with the, "easy believism" of our day?] His Gift of Salvation is all that redeems our souls, but, if we have truly surrendered to loving and following Him, that love will be costly, or it was never real. True love always costs tremendously. Jesus tells those contemplating discipleship, count the cost before you come, because that cost will be everything. We so often want to spiritualize and, "word picture" these statements away, but every word and deed of Jesus and His disciples show these statements were not meant to be spiritualized; they were literal. If we do not give up ownership of everything we possess in this world, we have not surrendered to our King in discipleship. That, "all" means any relationship, possession, lifestyle, habit, job, or belief that stands against Him and His plan for our lives (including obsessions with success, hobbies, sin, money, pleasure, and even (sometimes especially) family). If these things keep us from serving and loving Him with all that we have first, they need to be released unreservedly—whatever the cost. Listen to these words, again by Jesus Himself:
Matthew 13:44-46: Jesus says that if we are not so excited (not pressured) to serve Him, that everything else is given up in joy for the sake of this awesome discovery, then we have not truly chosen him in our hearts.
Another obvious reason that Jesus was not speaking figuratively or spiritualizing these statements: please look at the incredibly selfless, costly way the early church lived for Christ and one another in the first century—immediately following His resurrection and ascension: Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32-34-35; Hebrews 10:32-34; Hebrews 11:35-38; James 2:14-17. Without going any further, it is obvious these people truly, joyfully gave up everything in their lives for Christ—all material wealth (social acceptance, freedom, comfort, their very lives)—to serve each other, and stand for Christ, and all done in joy and willingness, not legalistically. There were an estimated 100,000 tortured and killed in Rome in the first centuries following Christ. We read these verses, hear these stories, and somehow still feel that we are OK living differently; that they were all just illustrations and parables—that is simply an excuse for us to live completely selfish and useless lives, yet feel comfortable as we do. We must have a complete change of mind about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus—about what is really expected by our Savior if we truly choose to live for Him.
At this point, many will say "I don't live in a time or place where we are persecuted like they were, so how could I live that radically for Christ?” That is one of the most narrow-minded, out-of-touch with Christ's love, thoughtless notions that could ever cross your mind. This is the most perfect, custom-made place on the planet to show how devoted we are to Christ because we have the most, of any people on earth, to materially lose by truly giving Him everything. We have some of the most directionless, broken, abused, misled people in the world to love and serve all around us, and we have some of the greatest opportunities in the world, to use the incredible resources we have been given to show love to so many who are completely hopeless. Let's take a hard look at what it means to have the mindset that Jesus said was required to truly follow Him. What if you became completely obsessed with obedience to whatever God needed from you, over the obsession you have to live your view of a perfect life? You would stop praying for, and hoping for, and being discouraged when you didn't get an easy time, a trouble-free situation, a bigger blessing; you'd anticipate chances to show devotion and sacrifice, rather than try to avoid them so you could keep a simple, happy life. You'd pray for strength to do right, to suffer well, to be a true example of love rather than immediately pray for relief and separation. In other words, if you had truly given up everything for Christ, you’d be ready to accept suffering, hard times, even death with a different set of values because the goal is no longer just to maximize everything you can get out of this life for self, but to save as many people as possible—to love and serve as many as possible, to glorify Christ with every action and sacrifice. And as this becomes the true purpose in your life, the value placed on these things shifts entirely. People all over the world still choose serving God and others over their own comfort, safety, and even life every day. Why are we supposed to be different because we are so blessed? It should be the opposite, if we are real. If this became your primary desire—your drive for life—you would begin to see where you were needed in circumstances all around you—where your time and resources could make all the difference in the world if you were not counting the cost of how it would affect your lifestyle and happiness. The proclaiming church goers would finally begin to give to God's house as He commanded. See Relevant Magazine for what would happen if the church tithed. And we wonder why God allows such terrible things to go on in the world. There would be no more children left in need of adoption, as we scream about not killing babies with abortion anymore. A number of entertainment industries would cease to exist due to a lack of support. There would be a major change in the amount of time wasted every day through TV, public media, and other distractions as we focused on God's Word and God's mission for our lives. Many people would leave relationships, lifestyles, and vices that they have held onto for a long time; many people would have smaller houses, cheaper vehicles, and less stuff, as they saw a greater need in loving, saving, and serving with what they have been given. Children would be taught humbleness, respect and love over pride in self, and over success seen as being better than others, and over me-before-the-world.
So, some of you might think, "Are you just saying that we all need to devote to a life of hard labor and suffering?
How miserable!" Actually, the very opposite is true. Listen to the incredible reasons Christ says this is the only way to live: I Peter 4:1-2. First, because we can never know true freedom and joy from our selfish anxieties, we can never know true love
until we learn to completely let go for something bigger than ourselves; until we no longer agonize over costs and repercussions, because we trust God to do something bigger than those repercussions, because we really know that living with those repercussions is a greater life than having never trusted, and the rewards to come, are far beyond anything we could want here: 2 Corinthians 4:17-18. Second, because the world has no idea what Christ's selfless, overwhelming love looks like, unless we show them. Talk is cheap, simple acts of love and service are cheap. If an act of love is not sacrificial, why is it anymore than the world would show? If it's not radical and sacrificial, how can it show that we have put them above even ourselves in honor and importance? Many more people will be touched by the quiet heart behind a sacrifice compelled by God's love, by the cost lived out in front of them, than will ever be touched by all your words of love or lessons spoken. Don't let fear of repercussions or loss, cause you to miss God's powerful show of love through your obedience. John 13:34-35. Lastly, more than anything else, not just to show His love for the people, not just to get gifts, glory, or safety from your obedience, but to show God in the most powerful way that you possibly can, how passionate and sincere you are to serve Him. You can show, in a concrete way, how important, how priceless He is to you. You can show that He truly is worth more than anything else you've been blessed by. You can show how you are honored to sacrifice, so that you may share in His sufferings for you. Nothing else can show that kind of real devotion, as can sacrificial serving, giving, and trusting in His Name.
What if Christ expected us to really live like they did then? Expected us to sell our possessions, give all we have, live radically everyday for others above self, and even die for His name? He does! (not everyone in every moment) Nothing has changed—that is still what He expects; that is still what it takes to follow Him. Every person in this room has been, or will be called to an act in faith that is life-altering in a radical and sacrificial way at some point. Will you trust Him? Will you let go? Will you show sacrificial love? What if choosing to follow Christ would require you, right this moment: to literally give up everything that you own right now—you would lose everything, today. You would have to walk away from every unrighteous relationship, and habit in your life, today. Before leaving this building and everything you did from this point would be for service to Him only—would you be able to do it? What if He promised it would shortly end in death? Would you do it? If you think this is too much, too radical, too costly to do—now you understand those who walked away from Jesus—you would have been one of them. Jesus didn't ask these things of us to be legalistic, harsh, or to ruin our lives, but so we could be set free. So we could share in an awesome love with Him, so we could have faith and purpose like we could never imagine in our selfish, protected world, so we could be His hands and feet and heart, to change the world of those around us, so we could have real treasures untold in countless days to come: Matthew 19:27-30. Now, we have a deeper understanding of what Jesus meant when He said to them all: Matthew 16:24-27. If the world will know we are Christians by our love; if they will judge our Jesus by how we live, how much does Jesus love according to your sacrificial living?
"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely from a comfortable and sheltered trip, but rather to skid in side-ways, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming: wow, what a ride!" If today becomes the first day you truly choose to serve Him as He asks us to serve, what do you need to lay down? What do you need to pick up? Where do you need to trust? What is your sacrifice to Him? He is worthy!
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