Count the Cost

Original Date: 
Sunday, September 1, 2013

Luke 14:25-33 Beyond Sunday Morning…

A Free Meal
This is the time for going back to school. Last weekend was the time for college students to get into their dorms, for college freshmen it was time to get out on their own for the very first time.

I still remember my first couple of weeks as a college freshman. It was all pretty overwhelming. Trying to get along with roommates I had only just met. Trying to find all my classes and get to them on time. Trying to figure out which groups I was going to belong to.

That’s one of the things about the first few weeks on campus, there are all these groups trying to recruit and sign kids up. The Greek system, the intramural groups, the college Democrats and Republicans, and so on. I was a student in the College of Social and Behavioral sciences, and early on one of my professors invited me to a meeting of the college Rotarians.

Now, I came from tiny Floyd Valley High School. We didn’t have any service clubs there. As far as I know, neither did my home town of Hospers. I had no clue what a Rotarian was. But the professor told me there would be free hamburgers, so I went.

Next thing I knew, I was a Rotarian. I still had no clue what that meant, but there were regular meetings and there was usually free food, so I kept going. Often our meetings coincided with the meeting of the “grown-up” Rotary club in town, and then there would be all these old guys in bright red coats. But I still hadn’t figured out exactly what the point of all these meetings was. As far as I could tell, being a Rotarian meant showing up to the weekly meetings and then not thinking about it again until the next meeting. After a while I just stopped going.

Now, this isn’t Rotary’s fault. I was a pretty naïve kid. Today I know that service groups are good places for building relationships and do a lot of good in the community. I’m proud to be a member of Kiwanis today. But at the time, I just didn’t get it. And I didn’t see much point in belonging to something that didn’t ask anything of me aside from my periodic presence.

At the same time, those first few weeks of college were pivotal for me in my relationship with Jesus. I grew up in a Christian home. I went to church my whole life. I can honestly say that there was never a day that I didn’t believe in God. He’s always been a part of my life.

But if I’m honest, I’ll also tell you that in High School I treated church a lot like I treated those Rotary meetings: I showed up for the weekly meetings and then didn’t think much about it until the next week. Being a Christian was a label I wore, and going to church was something I did, but I don’t know how deep it went.

So when I woke up that first Sunday morning in my dorm, I had an important decision to make: was I really committed to Jesus, or was that just something my parents had me do?

By God’s grace I connected with Orchard Hill Church and InterVarsity, and during those years my faith became something more than just weekly meetings. It came to define who I am.

Count the Cost
When Jesus calls us to follow Him, He’s not just asking for an hour on Sunday Morning. He wants us to commit our whole lives to Him. He wants us to be fully-devoted.

We’re starting a new series today called Beyond Sunday Morning… The idea is that being a Christian is about more than just showing up for the meetings. Jesus wants our relationship with Him to define every aspect of our lives. In the next few weeks we’re going to talk about the implications of that.

But today, first, I want you to hear Jesus’ call. Our passage is Luke 14, starting at verse 28:

25Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. 27And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

One of the amazing things about Jesus is that it was never about the crowds. When Jesus had large crowds following Him He would often say or do something that would make it harder for people to stay with Him. He had 5000 plus people literally eating out of His hands, and He started talking about eating His flesh (John 6:60-66) until all but a few drifted away. A rich young ruler wanted to sign on, and Jesus told Him to give away His wealth (Mark 10:21-22). Somebody else wanted to bury his father before following Him, and Jesus told him to let the dead bury their own dead (Luke 9:60). It’s not that Jesus didn’t want people to follow Him, but He didn’t want them to follow only halfway.

That seems to be what is going on here. Jesus wants these large crowds to know what He is asking of them.

In that culture, to “hate” meant to love someone or something less than someone or something else. Jesus isn’t asking anyone to openly despise their own family. He’s not saying that you have unfriend them on Facebook. But He is saying that He wants to take first place. He’s saying that your love for Him should be so great that your affection for anyone else will look like hate by comparison.

And then He invites us to take up our crosses--a frequent expression in the gospels--that implies we should be prepared to sacrifice our very lives.

He goes on with an illustration. Verse 28:

28"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

This is a picture of the Ryogyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea. Construction began on it in 1987 and was supposed to be completed in 1989. At 105 stories, if it had been finished on time it would have been the tallest hotel in the world. However, it wasn’t finished on time. Problems with building methods and materials meant it didn’t reach its full height until 1992, at which point construction halted due to a lack of funds. Japanese newspapers estimated that the total cost of construction was $750 million—2 percent of North Korea’s Gross Domestic Product. And yet it wasn’t finished. For the next 16 years it sat as an empty shell without windows, fixtures or fittings. Media sources began to call it “The Worst Building in the World”, the “Hotel of Doom” and the “Phantom Hotel.” It has become a symbol of the failures and struggles of North Korea’s totalitarian government.

In 2008 an Egyptian company took over construction and the exterior was finished. It was supposed to finally open this summer, but those few Westerners who have been inside it report it is barely furnished and certainly not ready for business.

That’s a pretty good example of what Jesus is talking about here. If you’re going to start a building project, you better have a pretty good idea of what it is going to cost, and you better know you have the means to pay for it. Otherwise you’re going to have a half finished tower and your neighbors are going to laugh at you.

And the point is: if you are going to follow Jesus, then you better have a good idea of what He is asking of you. Jesus doesn’t want us to follow Him only part of the way. He’s more interested in a committed few than a wishy-washy crowd.

The next parable is similar. Verse 31:

31"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.

It’s one of the first rules of warfare: don’t pick a fight you know you can’t win. Or, as my Dad used to tell me: “Don’t let your mouth write checks your body can’t cash.”

Applied to being a follower of Jesus this means we need to understand that Jesus is asking a lot of us. He doesn’t want us to start something we can’t finish.

He’s not predicting that we will fail. He’s not saying that we have to somehow earn our way with Him. But He is practicing truth in advertising. We need to count the cost right up front. He is asking for a total commitment. As verse 33 says:

33In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

Jesus wants everything. He wants us to be fully devoted to Him. Every aspect of our lives needs to be on the table. Not just an hour or two on Sunday morning.

When we were at Pleasant Valley I would go to all the Friday night football games with my friend Kirk and his father-in-law Dennis. And Kirk had a little boy named Conner, who had a great relationship with his grandpa. Grandpa Dennis would always be teasing him and giving him noogies and that sort of thing. One of his favorite things to say to Conner was: “I’ll give you a knuckle sandwich.” Not mean, just one of those things that a Grandpa says.

And one day, while we were sitting in the bleachers, Grandpa Dennis said that and Conner—who was all of maybe 4 at the time and trying to show all the toughness of a pre-schooler—said: “Do you want a piece of me? Or do you want the whole thing?”

That cracked me up. It was the first time I’d ever heard that expression. “Do you want a piece of me? Or do you want the whole thing?”

Jesus wants the whole thing.

Those of us who would follow Jesus must think things out very carefully, and we must be willing to give our whole lives to Him. Discipleship is not built on empty emotions or shallow enthusiasm. That stuff comes and goes. Jesus is looking for a genuine, sold out commitment. He does not want, and he does not need, half-hearted followers.

That’s what we mean by the phrase Beyond Sunday Morning…

Fully-Devoted
So what does this look like? How do we know if we are following Jesus like this? What does a fully-devoted follower of Jesus do?

Those are questions that I’ve been chewing on for the better part of a year. This past spring we put together a task force that had members of the staff, members of the consistory, and members from the congregation on it. The goal was try to describe the journey of faith here at Hope Church. What theologians call the process of “spiritual formation.”

One of the things we did was look at the letters of the Apostle Paul for the things he prayed for the churches he was writing too. The thought was that if Paul was praying for it, it must be a pretty important part of what it means to be a fully-devoted follower of Jesus.

Three passages, in particular, stood out to us. One was Philippians 1:9-11:

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

We noted that Paul is praying that the Philippians will grow in knowledge and insight, that they’ll be discerning between right and wrong, and that they’ll be fruitful. In other words, Paul is hoping that they’ll know more about God, that they’ll be more like Christ in their actions, and that they’ll do more for the sake of the kingdom. Know more. Be more. Do more.

Then, a second passage we looked at was Colossians 1:10-12:

10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

Here we noticed an emphasis on living a life worthy of the Lord, bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in knowledge of God. Or, again, an emphasis on knowing God, living a Christ-like life, and making an impact on the world through the fruit we bear.

And third, we looked at Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians:

16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:16-19)

Here we noticed the emphasis on grasping the immense love that God has for us. Being rooted and established in His love.

So, we put all these passages together, and some others, and here’s the definition we came up with:

A fully-devoted follower of Jesus is someone who is secure in God’s love, seeks for more of the things of God, serves with Christ-like character and shares Jesus with others.

Here, we believe, is what Jesus calls us to when He calls us to be His followers.

The emphasis, obviously, is on the words starting with “s”. He wants us, first of all, to be secure in His love. He wants us to know that He has claimed us by His grace. That’s the gospel. That’s the starting.

And then He wants us to seek, serve and share. He wants us to know more about God, be more like Christ in our actions, and do more for the sake of the kingdom. Know more. Be more. Do more.

Seek. Serve. And share.

The Recycling Logo
Graphically, we’ve represented our model of spiritual formation like this:

I hope this is graphic that is going to become familiar to you. I’m hoping that we can use this as a guide for how we grow in our faith here at Hope Church. We are going to try to use this logo and this definition of what it means to be a follower of Jesus to shape the way help people grow their faith.

Here are a few important principles that go with our idea of spiritual formation:

First, there is no set order. One of the reasons we chose a logo that looks sort of like the recycling symbol is because there’s no order to it. Seeking more of God leads to serving and also sharing. The more you share Jesus the more you’ll want to seek more about Him and find other ways to serve, and so on.

The only thing that obviously comes first is being secure in God’s love, and that’s why we put that in the center. We all need to know that Jesus loves us, and we all need to be clear about the gospel, and then the other things will flow around that.

Which leads to a second point:

There is no finishing point. The other reason we like the recycling symbol is that it is a loop. We need to continue growing in our knowledge of God, in our Christ-like service, and our ability to share the good news. There’s never really a point where someone arrives as fully-formed Christian—at least not this side of heaven. We all remain works in progress.

One of the problems we had with a lot of the models for spiritual formation that we looked at was how linear they were. They would say: first you learn this, then you learn that, and then you move onto this other thing. Some churches even have 100 level classes, 200 level classes, and so on. With the implication being that once you’ve completed all the classes, you’ve somehow graduated.

That makes things easier to organize, and it might give people a simple process to follow, but I’m not sure how reflective it is of how spiritual formation really takes place. The reality is: we all grow in our relationship with Christ at different rates and through different experiences. And to be sure, whether you are a brand new Christian or someone who has been walking with Jesus for decades, spiritual formation is never finished.

Which leads to a third point:

There is more to this than knowledge. There is a danger, whenever a church tries to help provide a structure for spiritual formation, that it will get turned into an academic exercise. We hold classes. We recommend books to read. We take notes. We give the idea that in order to grow as a Christian we have to have so many credit hours under our belt.

And that’s not the case. You can be illiterate and be an incredibly mature Christian. You can also have a Ph.D. in Bible Studies and be far from God.

As I was studying spiritual formation I came across this quote on a website called Disciples.org: “Spiritual maturity does not speak of how much Biblical knowledge I possess, but rather of how willing I have been to allow the Holy Spirit to transform my understanding of Him, and of life.” That’s the goal. To be transformed by the Holy Spirit.

Classes can be helpful. And, indeed, I’m about to tell you about some workshops that we are going to be holding to help us along in this process. But we have to know that this process of becoming more fully-devoted followers is as much about who we are and what we do as it is about what we know.

And then, finally:

The church’s role is to challenge and equip. Ultimately, your spiritual growth is between you and Jesus. The church can hold out a vision for becoming fully-devoted followers, and we can offer resources that will help you take steps forward; but this is really about what you do outside of your time here at church. That’s what we mean by “Beyond Sunday Morning…” The question is whether you are making the space in your life for your relationship with Jesus to grow. Whether you are making everything available to Him.

But, at the same time, the church can help equip you in this. And we’re going to do just that. In the next four weeks, we’re going to preach on each of the aspects of our definition of a fully-devoted follower of Christ. Next week I’ll preach on being secure in Christ’s love. The week after Jay will preach on service. And so on.

And then, we are also going offer workshops where we can explore each of these areas.

The last two weeks in September I’ll be offering my “Pastor’s Class” for those who want to learn more about Hope Church. Only I’m changing the name--to “Starting Point”--and a big part of the emphasis will be on making sure we are secure in God’s love. This is for new members, but it is also something that I hope people who have been here a long time will consider being a part of. It’ll be a great way for us to consider what Jesus has done for us and look at the church we are trying to be. I’ll talk more about this next week.

And then, on October 13, 20, and 27 we are going to try something new. We are going to hold workshops on each of the areas of spiritual formation: seeking, serving and sharing. They’ll be Sunday afternoons and we’ll hold them at the same time. And the idea is for each of you to pick one area where you would like to grow and participate in the workshop. We’ll be calling them the Beyond Sunday Morning Equipping Workshops, and we’ll be offering them periodically in the future.

But the goal is to get as many people started thinking about where they are in their commitment to Jesus and making a step or two closer. We’ll have sign-ups available next week, and we’ll be talking more about them as we go through this series.

The Whole Thing
Being a follower of Jesus is about more than just showing up for the weekly meetings. When Jesus calls us, He is very clear: He wants every aspect of our lives on the table.

So ask yourself: where am I in my relationship with Him? What can I do to become more a more fully devoted follower?