TITLE: Three Life-changing Questions SCRIPTURE: Luke 14:25-33
I would like to share a story of a man from I go to Duke with. He shared his story with me and I would like to share it with you. This man had been a successful broker on Wall Street, earning a six-figure income -- but had felt a call to the ministry. He had felt that he just couldn't spend the rest of his life worrying about debentures. And so he had quit his job and gone to School. Recently graduated, he had received an appointment to a church in a small town in Pennsylvania.
When I heard that story, I was torn. Part of me was glad for this person who had clearly made some genuine sacrifices for Jesus. That's what Christians are supposed to do. I had made that point often in my own preaching. Now, standing before me, was a man who had taken that seriously -- had committed his life to Christ in a very serious way. He seemed happy about his decision and the course of life on which he was now embarked, and I was confident that he would be a good pastor.
But on the other hand, part of me felt sad for what the man had given up. His life, working on Wall Street and living on the Upper East Side, seemed glamorous beyond measure. And a six-figure salary! A six-figure salary can be anywhere between a hundred thousand and a million dollars a year. Even at the low end of that spread, he was making at least twice as much as he would earn as a pastor.
So there was a part of me that was grieving for what the man had given up. But he wasn't grieving. He was happy -- joyful -- looking forward to the life that he had chosen.
It wasn't that he was naive. He had just spent five years in school, trying to live on the small stipend that churches pay student pastors. He knew what he had left behind, and he had a pretty good feel for what lay ahead -- and he was delighted to be doing what he was doing. The Lord had blessed him -- had replaced the big salary and glamour with something that gave the man even more pleasure.
Jesus says that sacrifice is an essential part of discipleship. He says:
"Whoever comes to me
and does not hate his father and mother,
wife and children,
brothers and sisters,
yes, and even life itself,
cannot be my disciple."
Jesus wasn't calling us to hate our family. The New Testament was written originally in Greek, and the Greek word was mesei. Mesei has a range of meanings. It can mean "hate" -- or it can mean "disregard" -- or it can mean "to be indifferent."
We also need to understand that people in Jesus' day often used hyperbole to make a point. Hyperbole is exaggerated, dramatic language intended to get our attention -- to stop us in our tracks -- to cause us to ask, "What did he say?"
In this case, Jesus was intending to drive home the point that being his disciple is serious business -- that true discipleship means putting Jesus above everything else.
And so he says:
"Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me
cannot be my disciple."
In Jesus' day, a cross wasn't a lovely piece of jewelry that one wore on a chain around one's neck. A cross was a cruel instrument of torture. A person who was carrying his cross was on his way to his death.
And then Jesus warns us to count the cost of discipleship. He says:
"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?"
His point is that we should give some thought to what it means to be a Christian before taking the leap -- because Jesus has high expectations of his disciples.
The book, Stories for the Soul, tells the story of Jim Denison, who went on a mission to Malaysia for a summer. While there, he worshiped at a small Malaysian church. One Sunday, he noticed an old suitcase sitting near the wall. When he asked about it, the pastor pointed out a teenage girl who had been baptized that morning. He said,
"Her father said that if she was baptized as a Christian
she could never go home again.
So she brought her luggage."
"So she brought her luggage!" What a price to pay for her decision to follow Jesus! What a commitment! She gave up her family to become a Christian.
When I read that story, I wondered what had become of that girl. Was she condemned to live on the streets living hand to mouth? Did anyone help her? I hope they did. If following Jesus for that girl meant leaving her family, following Jesus for the members of that congregation surely meant taking care of her. When I read that story, I thought, "By bringing this girl into their midst, Christ was testing the faith of this congregation. He was giving them a chance to do something wonderful for him. I wonder if they were equal to the challenge. I hope they were."
There is a movement abroad today by people who want a very different kind of Christ. This movement is called the Prosperity Gospel. Proponents of the Prosperity Gospel emphasize that Christ wants to make his followers wealthy. A billboard for a Benny Hinn revival promises "Business Breakthrough: Special Prayers for Your Business & Finances." The Prosperity Gospel is a movement that started in the United States and has spread throughout the world. People find it attractive, because it promises material rewards for discipleship. It tells them that Jesus will make them wealthy.
But Jesus said:
"None of you can become my disciple
if you do not give up all your possessions."
I don't believe that Jesus meant that literally -- any more than I believe that he wanted us to hate our fathers and mothers. This is another example of hyperbole -- exaggerated, dramatic language intended to get our attention. But Jesus clearly meant that we cannot be his disciples if we allow the God-space at the center of our lives to fill up with love of money. Jesus clearly meant that being a Christian involves making some sacrifices.
How that works out in our lives differs from one person to another. There is no standard template. For one Wall Street broker, it meant giving up a prestigious job to go to school and then to a small-town church in Pennsylvania. For one Malaysian girl, it meant leaving her family behind.
We don't talk about sacrificial discipleship very much today, but we should. Jesus clearly thought that it was important. In fact, in Jesus' mind, sacrifice and discipleship were inseparable. As the song from the musical "Oklahoma" says, "You can't have one without the other." You can't be Jesus' disciple without making some sacrifices.
So I would like to leave you with a series of questions this morning. I don't expect you to stand up and answer these questions, but I would like for you to reflect on them this week. I believe that Christ has something important to do with your life. It might be big, like becoming a missionary -- or it might be as simple as teaching a Sunday school class or helping with the youth group. But I am hoping that these questions will help you to find your calling -- and to fulfill it.
So here are the questions:
FIRST QUESTION: What have you given Jesus lately? What have you given him this week? This month? This year? What have you given Jesus lately? (PAUSE)
SECOND QUESTION: What could you be giving him that you aren't? Is Jesus calling you to spend more time strengthening your devotional life? Is he calling you to help the hungry and the homeless? Is he calling you to work with young people in our church or community? What could you be giving Jesus that you aren't? (PAUSE)
THIRD QUESTION: If you were to put Jesus first, how would that change your life? What would you start doing? What would you quit doing? (PAUSE)
So take those questions home with you today, and ponder them this week:
-- What have you given Jesus lately?
-- What could you be giving him that you aren't?
-- If you were to put Jesus first, how would that change your life?
If the answers to those questions suggest that you should move in a new direction, trust Jesus and set out on the journey. I can't promise that it will be easy, but I am confident that it will be blessed.