There was a TV commercial once that began with a guy sitting in the chair at a tattoo parlor expressing his love for his girlfriend Donna by getting her name tattooed on his arm. Halfway through, he thinks to ask how much the tattoo will cost. The guy tell him $50.00. He pulls out his cash, and says, “Oh, I only have $41! What can I get for $41?” The commercial then cuts to the couple on the sidewalk. Donna storms off and the guy yells after her, “I’ll get it fixed!” The camera zooms in on the tattoo which reads, “I love Don!”
This morning, we venture ever deeper into uncharted waters as we continue our current Sunday morning sermon series- Terra Incognita. Coined in 150AD by Greco-Egyptian writer Ptolemy, the phrase Terra Incognita describes that which is beyond the boundary of what has yet been discovered. Latin for “unknown land”, Terra Incognita is the great unknown- the things that are beyond our current understanding. Over the 7 weeks of this series, we are looking at several aspects of the “uncharted waters” into which we as a church are currently sailing. And every week along the way, we’ll pause to focus on the beauty, the wonder AND the challenge of the “undiscovered country”!
Romans 6:20-23 As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end. But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.
In today’s Scripture passage, Jesus tells us what it means to be His disciple. The bottom line is this- to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, you have to be committed to Him over and above anything and everything else. Anything. Everything.
Luke 14:28-33 Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’ Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce? Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good- bye, you can’t be My disciple.
Have you seen the OTHER commercial where the college professor has intentionally put his clothes on backward, shaved the back of his head to look like a face and put his glasses on backward…ALL so that he lecture his class while continuing to search on his laptop for the best travel deals? He even holds the coffee cup up to the back of his head…the BACK of his head…and makes a slurping noise as if he’s actually drinking! I laugh at that commercial every time I see it. But the truth is that, even with the very small amount of air travel that we do, I have spent my fair share of time comparing websites, researching the cost of a trip. The truth is that it is essential to understand what your journey will require of you.
An interesting thing to understand about this passage is that, before the spot where I started reading, Luke tells us that large crowds were following Jesus. He then tells us that Jesus specifically turned toward that crowd and began to tell them what it takes to be a disciple. What that points to is that He wasn’t talking to the folks who were out to get Him. He wasn’t talking to the “hangers-on” who could have cared less about His life or His message. No, He was talking to the folks who were traveling with Him- His FOLLOWERS. They already had a positive attitude about Jesus. They genuinely cared about what He had to say. BUT…they apparently confused a positive attitude ABOUT Jesus for true discipleship toward Jesus. They THOUGHT they were followers of Jesus, but in fact they were simply casual followers…not committed believers.
They were all GUNG HO to follow Jesus…as long as the cost wasn’t too high or the challenges too great. They did “Christian things”- go to church, pray, sing Christian songs- but they weren’t really committed to Jesus. They were happy to go along for the ride, but they were unwilling to give up everything to follow Jesus…REALLY follow Him.
And aren’t we guilty of that same behavior some days? We look to Jesus to solve our money problems, our relationship problems, our health problems, our “whatever” problems. But then we so quickly grow disillusioned and become increasingly unwilling to actually give ourselves over to Jesus when He doesn’t wave His magic wand and solve our problems, when following Him requires actual sacrifice. These large crowds were actually casual followers instead of committed believers. What about you?
You probably noticed that the Message translation of today’s passage said, “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good- bye, you can’t be My disciple.” But other translations say things like, “Anyone who comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters,-yes, even his own life cannot be my disciple.” Wow! Harsh stuff! But we need to understand that the word “hate” here is figurative. In the Jewish understanding, the word “hate” was used to express a lesser kind of love. More than our emotions, Jesus is talking about our commitment level. He should be first among our priorities and loyalties. What Jesus is saying is that we should love Him more that we love the people and things in our lives. He doesn’t want people to make a commitment to Him without understanding and seriously thinking about what’s involved. Jesus doesn’t want half-hearted or lukewarm. He wants the 50,000 red-hot poppin’ watt Church of Jesus Christ. The gift of salvation is free…but it’s not cheap. It’s simple…but it’s not easy. Moral compromise and half-hearted commitment are not the things Jesus is looking for. Jesus doesn’t want crowds- He wants commitment!
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “We have cheapened grace, and cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church. We are fighting for costly grace. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.” Many churches and many pastors have made the gift so cheap, they’ve watered it down so much, that it’s simply lost its meaning and impact for many people. But that is NOT the message of the Bible. That is NOT the message Jesus offers us in today’s Scripture reading. Quite the opposite. Jesus says there IS a cost- there’s a price to be paid. We have to be willing to put Jesus and His will for our lives above everything else. That’s the cost.
Many people feel they don’t need to be associated with a church family. They don’t need to change their lifestyle. It’s OK to cheat my neighbor. It’s OK to gossip. It’s OK to be disrespectful. It’s OK to hold grudges. It’s OK to be greedy, walk over other people to get more money and yet NOT share my good fortune with God. All of that is OK…because God’s grace is cheap, freely given. But that kind of cheap grace does WAY more harm than good. It was Martin Luther who said, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing…is worth nothing.”
What does it take to follow Jesus? 100%. You can’t get by with half. You can’t settle for the bare minimum that’s needed to get by at the moment. You can’t wallow in what a former boss of mine called “stinkin’ thinkin’”. You need complete resolve to stand up and face the great battles of life. Jesus isn’t looking for 30%, or 50%, or even 75%. He wants 100% of our lives…all the time- 24/7/365. He doesn’t want the Lukewarm United Methodist Church. He wants the 50,000 Red-Hot Poppin’ Watt United Methodist Church! He wants us to remember the cost HE paid for OUR lives so that WE might be willing to pay the cost for HIS grace.
Author Max Lucado tells a marvelous story about…dancing: “Let’s imagine that you want to learn to dance. Being the rational, cerebral person you are, you go to a bookstore and buy a book on dancing. You take the book home and get to work. Finally, you think you’ve got it, and you invite your wife to come in and watch. You hold the book open and follow the instructions step by step. You even read the words aloud so she’ll know that you’ve done your homework. “Lean with your right shoulder,” and so you lean. “Now step with your right foot,” and so you step. “Turn slowly to the left,” and so you do. You continue to read, then dance, read, then dance, until the dance is completed. You plop exhausted on the couch, look at your wife, and proclaim, “I executed it perfectly.”
“You executed it, all right,” she sighs. “You killed it.” “What?” “You forgot the most important part. Where is the music?” Music? You never thought about the music. You remembered the book. You learned the rules. You laid out the pattern. But you forgot the music.
“Do it again,” she says, putting in a CD. “This time, don’t worry about the steps; just follow the music.” She extends her hand and the music begins. The next thing you know, you are dancing-and you don’t even have the book.”
When it comes to faith, we’re prone to follow the book…yet ignore the music. We master the doctrine, outline the chapters, memorize the dispensations, debate the rules, and stiffly step down the dance floor of life, counting out loud but with no music in our hearts. We carefully measure each step, we calibrate each turn with precision, and then we flop down into the bed every night- exhausted from another day of dancing by the book. Dancing with no music is tough stuff. You need to, completely and without restraint, let God have you. You need to let God love you. And you need to be prepared for that moment when your heart starts to hear music you’ve never heard before, when your feet learn to dance like they’ve never danced before.
Proverbs 24:3-4 It takes wisdom to build a house, and understanding to set it on a firm foundation. It takes knowledge to furnish its rooms with fine furniture and beautiful draperies.
One day, a new believer wanted to become all that God wanted him to be so he visited an elderly Christian from his church. He’d heard that this elderly man had never lost his love for Jesus in all the years he’d been a believer. When the man got there, he found the old Christian sitting on his porch with his dog stretched out next to him, watching a beautiful sunset. The young man greeted him and then asked, “Why is it that most Christians eagerly chase after God during the first year or two after their conversion, but then fall into a complacent ritual of weekly church and end up not looking any different than their neighbors who aren’t even Christians? I’ve heard you’re not like that. People say you’ve eagerly sought after God throughout your years as a Christian. People see something in you that they don’t see in most Christians. What makes you different?
The old man smiled and replied, “Let me tell you a story. One day I was sitting in the sun with my dog. Suddenly, a large white rabbit ran across in front of us. Well, the dog jumped up and took off after that big rabbit. He chased that rabbit over the hills with great passion. Soon, other dogs joined him, attracted by his barking. What a sight it was, as the pack of dogs ran barking across the creeks, up the embankments and through the thickets and thorns! Gradually, however, one by one, the other dogs dropped out of the pursuit, discouraged by the course and frustrated by the chase. Eventually, only my dog continued in hot pursuit of the white rabbit. In that story, young man, is the answer to your question.” The young man sat in confused silence. Finally, he said, “I don’t understand. What’s the connection between the rabbit chase and the quest for God?” “You fail to understand,” answered the well-seasoned older man, “because you failed to ask the obvious question. Why didn’t the other dogs continue on the chase? And the answer to that question is that they hadn’t seen the rabbit. Unless you see what it is you’re chasing, the chase is just too hard. You’ll lack the passion and determination necessary to keep up the chase.”
Have you seen God? Jesus is talking about counting the cost to be His disciple. Jesus is saying it’s not easy to be His disciple. He’s saying that, to be His disciple, we have to be willing to put everything else second. He comes first. I’ve had people say, “How can I adequately follow God if I don’t first take care of my family?” I would argue, “How can I adequately take care of my family if I don’t first follow God?” What is the example that you want to set for those around you? Do you want them to say, “He was only somewhat committed to his faith…but he never missed a Sunday golf game or soccer match!” Jesus is calling us to a radical kind of life- a life that sets us apart from much of society. Not ABOVE…but apart.
Are you willing to pay that kind price to follow Him? Are you willing to turn the love you have for Him into action- an action that might well separate you from some of the values and ideals that you hold dear?
Cheap grace is grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ. Costly grace is gift which has to be asked for. That kind of grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it’s grace because it calls us to follow Jesus. It’s costly because it costs us our old life. It’s grace because it gives us a marvelous new life.
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- A Plumbing Prayer