Intro - Ted Williams – “This is your last at bat, make it count.”
As we look at the ineffectiveness of our lives – how we are always swinging, never connecting, we need to do some deep soul searching and find out what is missing. Like Ted Williams, I think we will find that we have been blinded by the world – its glamour and materialism and seductiveness and bill of goods that sells something it doesn’t really have to offer – LIFE.
And only when we return to the words of Jesus and remember that he alone gives life in its fullness, and that his requirements for being his disciples bring us to each day with the kind of thoughts Ted Williams decided – this is your last at bat, make it count.
Jesus found himself surrounded by people too painfully much like us in Luke 14 – satisfied, complacent, following Jesus with half a heart.
And while too many times we will be satisfied with a half-committed congregation as long as the numbers are up and the contribution meets budget, Jesus knew that you can do more through a handful of totally devoted believers than through a church full of half-hearted ones.
And what he said when he turned to them was the cutting edge – the dividing line – and after hearing him many turned away, went home and followed him no longer. Luke tells us that, Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “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. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-27)
We don’t take too well to that kind of language. He was blunt, he was harsh, he obviously hadn’t taken a Dale Carnegie course. Everything he said ran crosswise to principles of church growth. We tell people feel good about yourself – Jesus said die to self. He was telling them, “put up or shut up,” “get on the wagon or get out of the road.”
Really, what is he saying? It sounds so contrary to everything else he teaches about loving others and honoring parents and family priorities.
What does he mean by hate? I’ve heard it explained as “to love less.” I know too many people who love these relations less enough already. Let’s take it the other direction.
In fact, what he is saying is that we cannot allow any relationship in our lives – even our own life itself – to rival in priority the relationship I have with Jesus. I must love him most.
If your life is centered around your children, your children occupy the wrong place in your life. If your life revolves around your husband or wife and they draw you away from God rather than closer to him, then that relationship needs to change. If your love of security and tradition and peacefulness keeps you from growing and maturing and stepping out in faith, then your life needs to be transformed, because Jesus is not your Lord. You need to begin, in Jesus’ own words, to “hate” even your own life.
His own conclusion – the bottom line on being a disciple, a follower – is that you must carry your cross and follow him. Luke 9 adds the word “daily.”
The cross had one meaning to the first century Jewish people – no metaphors, no theological discourses here – to carry your cross was to go to your own execution – to suffer pain, humiliation and death.
It was as severe a demand as anyone could make. It is a demand of everything you have and everything you are, if you are to be a disciple of Jesus. If that should mean death itself – it should not deter you from following him.
But for most of us the demands, in many ways, exceed death.
Death, in some ways, would be a noble sacrifice. But of many of us, Jesus would demand our time and energy (commodities we are not anxious to part with). He demands that we put to death our pride, and all of the luxuries with which we have glued ourselves to this world. His demand comes down to giving up whatever it is that keeps us from following him with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind. It was a demand of absolute, unreserved, total commitment to follow Jesus. The apostle John writes in 1 John 2, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
I said that it was the most severe demand a man could make. The point is, it is not a man who makes that demand, but the son of God who gave his own life, shed his own blood for you and says, “Follow me.” The apostle Paul will write: Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Illustration – Buying the pearl of great price - Juan Carlos Ortiz, Disciple, pp. 34-35.
What does this demand of total commitment require?
Jesus told two parables that describe a builder and a king. Each one was faced with a task that demanded all they had:
“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? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
“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? If 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.” (Luke 14:28-32)
I see three requirements in these parables – estimation, preparation, and consecration.
Estimation – The KJV bluntly phrases it: “count the cost.”
And the cost is everything you have. He’s not asking us to calculate the cost and see if we can come in under budget. He is saying the cost is everything and you need to commit it all to following him.
We might start a task with all the grand plans in the world, but if we haven’t laid the groundwork our finished product is going to be unacceptable, it will be incomplete. Without having considered the cost, the builder began prematurely. Without counting the cost, the king would go into certain defeat.
The man or woman who approaches the Christian life seeing it simply as a stage, a social life, a necessary duty, a whim, and does not see clearly the price tag and the demands of being a disciple is going to find themselves frustrated and disillusioned.
Jesus is not asking us to look into our lives and see whether we have enough – each of us has enough. What he calls us to count is whether we are willing to commit it all.
There is an African proverb – Every morning, a gazelle wakes up knowing it has to run faster than the fastest lion or it will be eaten. Every morning, a lion wakes up knowing it has to run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve. So whether you’re a gazelle or a lion you’d better wake up running.
Let me put it another way -- If you are not seeking the Lord with all your heart, the Devil is seeking you. In the Christian life, it is not enough simply to wake up. We are called to run.
Not only had that builder better decide what it’s going to take, he needs to make the preparations -- gather the materials, contract the workers, rent the equipment, all that is involved – it needs to precede the actual construction.
If that king thinks he can defeat another king with his 10,000 soldiers against an army of 20,000, he has before him some intense preparation to accomplish his task.
No athlete approaches his competition without preparing and training. Nor can a follower of Jesus live the Christian life without preparation and training. If somebody has told you, or left the impression that the Christian life is an easy stroll in the park, then I’m here to tell you they have misled you.
The preparation required for living the Christian life demands that we turn away from sin, that we immerse ourselves in God’s Word, that we wear out our knees in prayer, that we be used up in God’s service. If you think it’s easy, you’re not doing it right.
Having counted the cost, having prepared our lives, we need to consecrate our lives to God’s use.
Consecration is a biblical word describing that process in which something is committed to a unique task. It means to set apart, to dedicate. We focus on one thing and do it the very best we can.
That builder needed to focus his work on one task. That king needed to focus his army on one purpose.
Our lives get so scattered between all the competing demands on us that we don’t focus on the one most important task – serving God. Our service to God may involve many facets, but everything we do is made subservient to that one principle. Our lives are consecrated to his service.
It makes me think about what Paul wrote to the young evangelist Timothy:Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops… In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Tim. 2:3-6, 20-22)
What Paul is telling Timothy is that if you want to serve God you need to focus your life on one thing and pursue it with everything you have. Make it the single most important thing in your life. In one of his songs, Stephen Curtis Chapman says that wants God to be his “Magnificent Obsession.” We all need a magnificent obsession.
And so, to his followers, Jesus says, “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33)
We are like the builder, like the king. We are about kingdom business. This is no place for half-hearted, unprepared, get-by kind of work. God wants our very best. His kingdom deserves no less. It will not happen if we give our left-overs, hand-me-downs and second best. When we throw God the scraps from our lives and expect him to be satisfied, we are fooling ourselves and insulting God.
Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, had explored life and recorded his observations, and the one that has always impacted me most is “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”
Paul wrote about his own life: Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:12-14)
I realize that your life is filled with important things, and that your relationship with God competes with dozens of other demands on your life. It’s tempting to let it slide comfortably into a once a week, if nothing else comes up kind of priority. But when Jesus turns to the crowd and looks in your eyes and says, “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. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple,”will you choose to follow him with all your heart, or will you turn and go home?