Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Cost of the Journey

What is the most expensive thing you’ve ever purchased? For most of us, the most expensive thing we will ever purchase will be our house. Some of you, however, may have purchased something even more expensive: A business? Large parcel of land? Maybe even a large boat, a yacht! (If you have access to a yacht, I want to visit later!)

Before we make a purchase like these, we have seriously to consider if we are willing to pay all that money. Is it worth it? Do I really need that pool or that extra space in the garage? How much would you pay to get exactly what you want? Would you pay with your life?

I read recently about an incredible effort that is underway. Have you ever heard of “Mars One?” Mars One is a company with an incredible mission. Let me read you their mission as stated on their website:

Mars One aims to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. Mars is the only planet we know of that can currently feasibly support human life and will be humankind’s first step to become a multiplanetary species. Before carefully selected and trained crews will depart to Mars, several unmanned missions will be completed, establishing a habitable settlement waiting for the first astronauts to arrive. The Mars One crews will go to Mars not to simply visit, but to live, explore, and create a second home for humanity. The first men and women to go to Mars are going there to stay.

This is not just science “fiction.” Plans have already begun. Millions of dollars have already been raised. The first 100 volunteers have already been chosen. There were 200,000 video applications. They first whittled that number down to just over 1000 and then to 660. Now, there are 100 ambitious visionaries who have begun training. That number will be reduced down to 24 people—the first to go to Mars!

Their plan is to have all of the supplies sent years in advance…even in the next few years. So that, by the year 2031, when the first crew is sent, they will have everything they need to live. Here, to me, is the most intriguing aspect of this mission.

Their website says clearly:

Once on Mars, there are no means to return to Earth. A grounded, deep sense of purpose will help each astronaut maintain his or her psychological stability and focus as they work together toward a shared and better future.

In other words, in case you missed it…These individuals will give up their lives for this mission. They will never return home. Would you go?

Is there anything you want so badly that you would pay for it with your life?

Had Jesus words’ “Take up your cross daily and follow Me” never been spelled out concretely, they would have had a nice ring to them! They would have made a nice bumper sticker. A great, Christian cliché. With no real practical, tangible demands that we actually change the way we live. 

Like that promise we make so often: “I’m here if you need me…” Not that we don’t really mean it. But there is not much sacrifice in that statement. And chances are, they’ll never call!

“Take up your cross” is kind of like that. But the problem is this: Jesus goes and describes, in detail, what that looks like!

In this text, His meaning is crystal clear: To take up one’s cross and follow after Jesus means God and God’s mission takes priority over everything else. I mean EVERYTHING else! In order to make that point more fully, this text alludes to another biblical story.

In I Kings 19, Elijah has just had his “retreat” with God at Mount Horeb. He ran away from the Jezebel and her minions. He thought he was the only prophet of God left in the world. He was afraid, so he ran away. God picked him up, dusted him off, and sent him on a mission. His mission was to find his successor. And he found him: Elisha.

The story of Elijah finding Elisha is a backdrop to this story in Luke 9. In both cases a “prophet” is calling to himself followers. In both cases, an extraordinary mission is underway. But, there are some noticeable differences.

It appears that Elijah was a much more lenient master than Jesus! Elijah seems…reasonable. Before starting his mission trip, Elijah allowed Elisha to go say good-bye to family and friends. He allowed him to butcher his cattle so he could feed his family while he was away. Seems reasonable, right?

Jesus, on the other hand, allows no delays. No good-byes. No time off even to attend a family funeral. The mission starts now. Let’s go.

The implications are pretty straightforward. Adding to the recurring theme already established in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus is a prophet even greater than Elijah. Jesus’ mission is even greater than the mission of Elijah. That is a profound message for a people who believed Elijah was the prophet of God par excellence!

But what about us “Gentiles”? Yes, we know Elijah was the most important Jewish prophet of all time. But the allusion to Elijah may not have the same impact for us as it did for Jesus’ Jewish audience. If you strip this story in Luke of its allusions and metaphors, what point is Jesus making? Simply this:

The mission of God is more important than anything else. And if you choose to follow Jesus on His journey toward Jerusalem, you have to know this about the mission: It takes priority over everything else in your life. EVERYTHING. The price to join this mission? Your life!

C. S. Lewis, in his masterpiece, Mere Christianity, writes:

Christ says, "Give me all. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there. I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think are innocent as well as the ones you think are wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you myself: my own will shall become yours."

Some passages are difficult to understand. I spend much of time, when preaching on those passages, helping you understand the difficult-to-understand meaning of those texts. This is not one of those. The meaning of Jesus’ words is easy to understand. Putting them into practice is quite another story.

Let me ask you a rather simple, but deeply important and potentially painful question: “What is taking priority over God in your life?”

For some of us, (and it’s like Jesus knew this about us—that’s why He included this example), our family takes priority over God. This is tough, isn’t it? It would have been much easier if Jesus had given some easier examples (taxes, root canals, liver)…

“If you’re going to follow Me, you are going to have to give up liver! I mean it. No exceptions!”

“Ok, Jesus…I guess. If you insist.”

That is not what Jesus says.

Fred Craddock writes about why this passage is so difficult:

“Jesus never said to choose Him over the devil, but to choose Him over the family.”

What does it look like, practically, to choose Jesus over the family? It may mean that your children’s sports calendar does not take precedence over time with God. It may mean that you must make intentional and obvious decisions within your family to model for your children that God always comes first…Over school, over band, over hobbies.

Family gurus tell us about the importance of scheduling date nights with our spouse. I totally agree! We need to do everything we can to grow and nourish that relationship. But do we do that same for our relationship with God? Are you carving out dedicated time to grow and nourish your relationship with God?

I’ve heard husbands say, “We protect our date night!” That is great. You should! Do you also protect your time with God?

For other of us, our jobs may be the biggest obstacle between us and God. Do you dedicate the same level of energy or passion or resourcefulness or creativity to your relationship with God that you dedicate to your work? What if you did?

What if you applied the same amount or even more creativity and energy to God’s Kingdom work that you apply to your job? That is what God is after! This is not just a “guilt you into loving God more” sermon. I think sometimes we view religion as a long list of don’ts. 

  • Don’t miss Bible Class! 
  • Don’t miss Wednesday night church services!
  • Don’t see any movies that aren’t rated “G”. 
  • Don’t have wine with your meals. 
  • Don’t have any fun! 
We make religion a chore…and a chore that is not very rewarding.

We often forget to ask the “Why” questions:
  • Why should we make God the priority?
  • Why should we prioritize God over even our choicest possessions and family? 
Those are good questions!

The Gospel is “Good News.” So, what is the Good News in this text? The good news is that Jesus is showing us how to leave our lives of slavery. We are slaves to our possessions. We are slaves to our jobs. And we are even slaves to our families. Jesus is showing us how to break free from those chains—to be the people He created us to be in the first place. And here is the remarkable thing: When we have been freed from our possessions…When we have been freed from worship of our family…Then, we will finally have the distance to love and appreciate them more fully.

The Declaration of Independence was signed by fifty-six men. In signing this document, they put their lives and their fortunes on the line. Treason was the word the British would use to describe what they did. Many of them lost everything. Thomas Nelson Jr. was one of these men. 

Nelson was wealthy. He often paid for, or lent the money, to buy the munitions that George Washington's men desperately needed. During the Battle of Yorktown, British General Cornwallis took over Nelson's home as his headquarters. It was not just a move for Cornwallis' comfort, or to make a symbolic point as to who was in charge. It was a strategic defensive move. 

The British general knew that that Washington's men would never open fire on the grand estate of their great friend and benefactor, Thomas Nelson. However, Nelson saw the predicament General Washington was in. He noticed how the cannons were not even pointed in the direction of the enemy's headquarters. Nelson quietly went up to Washington and urged him to open the canon fire on his own home. Washington did open fire and the home was destroyed. The enemies’ headquarters destroyed, Washington’s army went on toward victory.

God wants you to experience “victory” in your life. He doesn’t want you to experience the pain that comes from divided loyalties, the anxiety that comes from trying to hold on too tightly to every possession and person in your life as if they were the ultimate keys to your joy and satisfaction. To borrow the metaphor from this story…It’s time to give God permission to destroy your house! So that God can build something much stronger and much more lasting in its place.

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