I’m looking for someone who’s hungry to volunteer, because I brought some food from home. I didn’t get it here without facing great danger. Anyone met our dog? She’s about nine pounds, part dog, part rat. We feed her this stuff here. It’s not even the fancy dog food – it’s just plain Dog Chow, Senior Formula. I don’t really care for the stuff myself.When we feed her, she guards her food like it’s gold. I don’t know why. We’ve got more downstairs, and nobody really has ever tried to eat her food, at least not for a long time. (When our kids were babies, they might have tried once or twice.) She growls and hovers over her bowl when any of us get close. She actually looks a little ridiculous.We’re going to read a passage today that makes we wonder if we sometimes look as ridiculous as this. We’re somewhat similar in that we guard and growl over our lives and our stuff and get threatened whenever we think God is interested in what we have. God must look at us and think, “You’re all worried about that?” but we are.Today’s passage is about us guarding our stuff – our relationships, our possessions, our plans, and our life – when we see God coming. It’s about our instinctive fear that God is going to ask for too much. It’s about what it takes to really follow him. It’s an easy passage to understand, but it’s a surprising passage because the entry requirements to the kingdom are set so high. If you have your Bibles with you, let’s look at it together. It’s found in Luke 14.Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, and he’s got a large group of people following him. The crowd thinks that Jesus is on his way to overthrow the Roman government and re-establish God’s kingdom on earth through the nation of Israel. They think Jesus is on his way to confront people like Pontius Pilate. Jesus knows that he’s going to meet Pontius Pilate, but as a bound prisoner. He’s going to be arrested and murdered. His followers really have no idea what they’re signing up for.
On the way, then, Jesus turns around and tells them, “If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters-yes, more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase The Message puts it a little differently. “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters-yes, even one’s own self!-can’t be my disciple.” The issue isn’t hating, since Jesus told us we have to love even our enemies. The issue is preference. If we want to follow Jesus, there are going to be times that there are relational choices that need to be made. We’ll have to choose whether our relationships with people have higher priority, or our relationship with Jesus. Jesus says that you can’t decide to put people first and still follow him.When I got married, we had the usual discussions about the guest list. I insisted on inviting this one individual. She and her whole family had been lifelong friends of our family. They were almost like brothers and sisters. There was only one problem. I dated her. I remember my wife essentially saying, “If you’re going to marry me, there are some choices that you need to make.” I didn’t listen, but I get the point now. I can’t be married to Charlene and make relational choices that put me in conflict with my marriage. We can’t be followers of Christ and put any other relationship ahead of the one we have with him.How do I know when I’m doing this? For some, it’s easy. If they follow Christ, they know they’re risking being cut off from their families. For the rest of us, it’s probably a little more subtle. We can’t put any other relationships ahead of our relationship with Jesus.
It gets even starker. “And you cannot be my disciple if you do not carry your own cross and follow me” (Luke 14:27). In Jesus’ time, those who were going to be executed had to carry the crossbeam of the cross to the execution site. It would be a little like asking someone who’s about to be electrocuted to check the wiring of the electric chair to make sure everything is in order. Or to take someone who’s going to the gas chamber to the store to help carry the gas canisters back.”Carry your own cross.” Anyone got plans, goals? Following Jesus means that we put him ahead of our own lives. We die to ourselves and follow him instead. You have no idea how much this terrifies and excites me.I hate to tell you this, because you have the power to change this, but I’ve got it pretty good here. God’s called me to follow him, and I don’t have much of a choice. But I’ve ended up in not too bad a situation. I get a salary and a health plan. Even on my really bad days, I still get paid to do what I’m doing. Lately I’ve been asking myself what would happen if God asked me to give all of that up and so something different, something where there was no salary or health plan or security. I’d like to say that I’d do it, but it scares me to death. Yet Jesus says, “You can’t be my disciple if you don’t die to yourself and follow me.”I asked someone who’s a leader in the North American church what he would do if he were my age again. He said the answer’s different for everyone, but if he had the courage he would go out and plant a church with the goal of planting a hundred churches over the next year. I sometimes worry that I’ll get to an age at which I’ll wish that I had taken more risks instead of playing it safe.Can you relate? That’s my version of dog kibble that I’m growling over. What’s yours?Jesus told a couple of stories to drive this home. I’ll read them from The Message:
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? (Luke 14:28-32)
We’ve just laid the new carpet here. They ran a bit short and never finished the main stairs going upstairs. It’s okay for today, but imagine if it stayed that way because we ran out of money. It would look pretty strange if we left it that way permanently.I know someone (okay, I’m married to her) who sands, rips wallpaper out, even rips the main parts of bathrooms out before I know that we’re going to repaint and renovate. I walk in one day and say, “I guess we’re redoing our bathroom.” Once she’s started, the decision’s already made.You get the point. Jesus wants us to consider in advance whether we’re committed to finishing the job we start when we follow him. It’s a little late to change our mind once we start. It’s the idea of advance commitment, of a realistic estimate of the cost of following Jesus. This is what it takes.
Our relationships, our lives – what else is left? Jesus says, “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). This is one of those verses you read again to try to find the loophole. At first glance it looks like we need to be selling everything that we have if we’re to follow him. In a sense, it does.What Jesus is really getting at, though, isn’t the disposal of our assets. I think the real issue is ownership. There’s a huge difference between when I own my stuff and when God does. Jesus says that we need to give up everything that we have and transfer its ownership to God. Whatever he wants to do with it is fine. If he wants to get rid of it, we’ll get rid of it. If he wants us to give it to someone else, no questions asked. It’s not ours anymore. It’s God’s.This is where it gets really personal. For many of us, we can make changes in our relationships. We can give up our goals and plans, thinking we’re giving up our very lives. But when it comes to transferring ownership of all that we have to God, for him to do as he wills, that’s where we really begin to squirm.What gets me is what Jesus didn’t say. He didn’t say, “You can’t be an elite disciple if you don’t live that way.” It’s not like there’s an elite status of follower who gives everything up and follows Jesus, while the rest of us meet a lower standard. Jesus didn’t say, “Here’s what you get for giving up everything. For those who can’t, we have a second level of membership for those who give up 10%.” He said, “This is the standard for anyone who wants to follow me. Here’s the minimum level of entry. You’ve got to die to yourself. You’ve got to give up ownership of everything that you have. You have to put me before any of your relationships, plans, or possessions. Then you can follow me. Anything less and you can’t be my disciple.”Then he finishes: “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. ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.'” (Luke 14:34). Salt really can’t change its properties. Jesus was saying, “Just as salt can’t be anything but salt, so too my followers can’t be anything but fully committed. Anything less and you’re not really my disciple.”Here’s the good news: if this is too much for you, then you have a choice. You can turn Jesus down and keep your life, your stuff, everything for yourself. Jesus will let you. That’s the good news. The bad news is this: you get to keep your stuff. That’s all you get to keep. It’s like the equivalent of my dog keeping her dog kibble. That’s all she gets to keep.But if we live this way, if we choose to come and surrender everything that we have, everything that we own, everything we are, then we can follow Jesus. It’s like giving up the kibble and getting filet mignon in return. You give up your life, but in return you get something far better. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:24).I don’t want to trivialize this. It does cost. Some have literally given up their lives as a result of following Jesus. He’s not just talking figuratively. There will be a real cost to following Jesus.It used to be in the form of persecution. The ancient historian Tacitus wrote of Christians who were convicted of “hatred against the human race”:
And they were put to death with insults , either dressed in the skins of beasts, to perish by the worrying of dogs, or else put on crosses to be set on fire when daylight failed, for use as light by night. Nero had thrown open his gardens for that spectacle, and mingled with the people in jockey’s dress, or driving a chariot.
A later follower of Christ, the Roman lawyer Tertullian, said:
Torture us, rack us, condemn us, crush us; your cruelty only proves our innocence. That is why God suffers us to suffer all this. But nothing whatever is accomplished by your cruelties, each more exquisite than the last. It is the bait that wins men for our school. We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed.
Today, in some parts of the world, people are still giving up their lives for following Christ. I think that somewhere along the line, Satan figured out that there’s a weapon that’s even more powerful than persecution: apathy. Persecution seems to strengthen followers of Christ. Apathy is much more effective at preventing them from following Christ fully.This is the cost. There are no words that I can say that would make you want to pay this cost to follow Christ. This may scare you half to death. But it’s the cost for any of us who want to follow him. Nothing less is enough.I guess one day we’ll look back and see that what we were so afraid to give up was really no more valuable than this bowl of dog kibble. But that’s not how it looks to us today. That’s why I want to close by asking you to tell God that you’re scared. He can handle it.Then offer him whatever it is that you’re scared to offer him. Tell him you’re scared as you do it. Pray that he would increase your willingness to surrender whatever it is. Picture it as this stuff – as dog kibble that you’re handing over. It’s like a little plastic trinket that a girl doesn’t want to give up to her father, while her father wants to exchange it for a real jewel. Hand it over, however hard it is.You may not be ready to do this. I think there were a lot who heard what Jesus said and walked away. Don’t make any vows that you’re not ready to make today. But if you’re ready, if you want to be a follower of Jesus, this is what it will take.Then lastly, thank him for what he’s promised: that “everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, as well as receiving eternal life in the world to come” (Luke 18:29-30).Prayer
Tell him you’re scared Offer it over Thank him for his promiseThis is where true freedom is found. As Robin Mark sings:
Jesus All for Jesus All I am and have and ever Hope to beAll my ambitions Hopes and plans I surrender these into Your handsFor it is only in Your will that I am free