Monday, September 7, 2009

Count the Cost

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.
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.'
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. 33In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:26-33

There are many considerations that go through a person’s mind before accepting the gift of salvation from God. We may have done a quick summation –– My life + Christ = eternal life; My life - Christ = eternal damnation –– and decided it was definitely worthwhile to add Christ to our equation. Others of us received Christ as Savior at a young age – even if in our teens – probably too young to even consider the cost of following Him. There is no disputing it, that quick summation is correct, but it doesn’t take into account the complicated math that has to happen on a day-to-day basis to be a disciple of Christ.

In these scriptures, Jesus uses two common examples that the people of His day could relate to – and one of them we can relate to as well, the building project. Even if you haven’t built a tower, you have probably built something or set about to do something that takes a while to complete and costs a lot – like obtain higher education, buy a house, etc. Even embarking on smaller endeavors, like going on vacation or signing up for a two-year cell phone contract, require some forethought of the kind Jesus is talking about. So first, a sound financial principle: Calculate before you take action. This is so basic that Jesus used it as a story the masses could relate to – he assumes it to be common sense. And yet how many of us do this as a practice?

I’m guilty as charged – time and time again in my youth, but even recently as well. A couple of years ago my car started misbehaving so I began a tortuous process of trying to decide what to buy next. My top priorities were to keep the price tag under $22,000 and to get good gas mileage. My husband and I test drove a lot of cars and were really nowhere near a decision when one day on a used car lot, we spotted a Honda Element – one of those weird boxy SUV types. We were seduced by the space – it’s one expansive vehicle on the inside. And we bought it that very day, despite a very uneasy feeling on my part. The price was within my budget, but when I sat down to work out the financing, I asked for three-year financing, to reduce the total interest due. I was handed a car payment of $572 a month. I signed off and went merrily on my way without having counted the cost. Later when I sat down to do my budget, I discovered that a $572 car payment was going to require a sacrifice I hadn’t anticipated. I had my eye on that big number – $22,000 – but, I failed to calculate how that would break down into little numbers each month.

Those who accepted Christ with the big picture in mind may similarly be in for a surprise as we realize how that major decision impacts our daily, monthly, weekly and yearly “budget.” To be a follower of Christ does require financial acts of obedience, beginning with giving back to the Lord a tenth of all He has given to us. As we come to cheerfully obey in tithing, God will lead us to realize that He likes to receive voluntary offerings as well – gifts to people in need, gifts for special projects that advance His Kingdom and gifts of our time (that we could be using to make money) to take care of His business. But that’s not all folks, read it and weep (or rejoice if you’re an extremely mature Christian – personally, I’m kind of teary-eyed as I read it): “…any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” Ouch – especially if you have a lot – ouch.

Moving back up to verses 26 and 27, Jesus gives some concrete examples of what he expects us to give up: any relationship that keeps us from following Him, any personal desire that takes precedence over His will and our very lives if called for (“carry your cross and follow me”). Does that leave anything out? Stymied! Boxed in on all sides! Yes, that’s the cost to follow Christ. Your quick math wasn’t wrong though – we still come out on the winning end of things.

You know, a lot of people can read that last paragraph and still comfortably sip a cappuccino, so let me just hit home right now. Better put that hot beverage down. Are you willing to give up your financial security to follow Jesus? Are you willing to sell your possessions and give them to the poor and follow him (Luke 12:33)? Are you willing to live a day to day existence, completely dependent on Him (Matthew 6: 19, 34)? We may believe that it’s OK if we have one or two bastions of worldly security to which we cling – we can still follow Christ and hold on to a few things for ourselves. But note Christ says that if we are not giving it our all, if we are not carrying (in the present tense) that cross, we cannot be His disciple. He doesn’t say: Anyone who is not willing to give up everything cannot be my disciple. Be willing all you want, but what Christ wants is calculated action.

Contemplate this: Is my need for financial security standing between me and Christ?

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