The Cost of Discipleship

The purpose in virtually all of these posts over the past three years has been to introduce the Lord God, His ways, how they are better (in fact, perfect) and how they are much different than the world’s ways in order for those who don’t yet belong to Him to know and appreciate the need for, and benefits of, forgiveness of sins, salvation and eternal life. And for those who do know the riches of His love and mercy, to encourage you, build you up in your faith, share with you from what the Word and the Spirit of God reveal to me as I learn, admonish and exhort you to be diligent and committed in your walk with Him, and to grow and mature in your faith.

Today I would like to share with you from personal experience, seeking the Lord for direction and wisdom, and from His Word. Hopefully, together, we can relate to one another—and to the Father, through Jesus Christ—and receive what we are looking for and what He wishes to give us. I have been endeavoring to follow God’s leading and prompting, specifically in this area, since returning to the States in December 2011 from two-and-a-half years in Lima, Perú with my wife. I approached my then Pastor and mentor about following his tailored ordination program so that I could serve God according to the spiritual gifts He has given me. That process took about two years and culminated in October 2014.

Just before and following after that special time, several things transpired that seemed totally orchestrated by the hand of God and He appeared to be leading me through a wide-open door. After a few months, this led to a closed door and we know from Romans 8:28 that “All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” A couple more years went by and a pastor’s position seemed to be opening up at a small church. Since several elements of this played into what I thought my calling was, I submitted my résumé, was asked and allowed to preach one Sunday, and waited and prayed for them to be prayerful and discerning in their search for their next shepherd whether that was to be me or one of several other brothers they were considering. Two months went by and they are narrowing their search (which doesn’t include me) to three individuals. I am praying for them to choose who the Lord earnestly wants them to serve under and to learn from. The disappointment came in the way they handled my involvement in the selection process. This was as recent as a month ago.

Now, it appears the Lord Jesus may be opening yet another door. It involves becoming an assistant chaplain for a prison ministry. I have experience doing this sort of evangelizing—not as a chaplain—but being able to teach and share the Word in the same setting, so this is of interest to me. I have been willing to go where, and to do what, He is leading whether it is what I believe or feel I am best suited for. I serve Him; not the other way around. He knows best; I know little. This is for His purposes; not mine. This now brings me and us (me and you) to a few verses which are largely left out of both Gospel-sharing and our sense of personal calling. This absolutely MUST change.

Turn in your Bibles with me to Luke 9: 57-62. This is uncomfortable, convicting, eye-opening, true, necessary and costly. But there can be no misunderstanding and our Lord meant it that way. It leaves you with having to make a clear choice—no middle ground, no lukewarmness, no maybes. You’re either in or out. In our day, we are rightly focusing on the Great Commission and making disciples. Most of us would love to see a family member, unsaved friend or coworker become repentant and born-again! Just one! Here, in this passage, our Lord has people following Him and yet is, at least in the observable sense, pushing them away. Let’s read:

“As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, ‘I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere no lay His head.’ To another He said, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead [spiritually] to bury their own dead [physically]. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Yet another said, ‘I will follow You, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit [useful] for the kingdom of God.’

How does this speak to you? My current pastor has been teaching on Wednesday nights for a few weeks on the “deceitfulness of distractions.” He hasn’t used this particular passage of scripture, but it is applicable. Jesus seems, among other things, to be speaking to these followers by telling them not to become distracted from what they should be keeping their eyes on, to press on and not to look back. But this is just part of what our Lord is communicating here. The other admonition is for us to count the cost of discipleship. He is not using His decidedly chosen words to keep us from following Him but, rather, to make sure we comprehend what we are committing to and professing!

When I read this, the Lord immediately spoke to me and allowed me to understand how this context applied to the door He is opening for me and bidding me to walk through. I thank Him because many are the times when my way or His Word is not, at first, clear. You see, I have two friends who are incarcerated. In fact, I met them both while doing prison ministry. One I met about nine years ago and he has just turned forty. If the Lord does not release him sooner (although I hope and pray that He does!), he will get out in 2027. My other friend I met back in 1996 and he has just turned sixty-eight. He is currently serving a Life Without the Possibility of Parole sentence due to my state’s three-strike rule. He has been incarcerated since around 1983. I hope that the Lord changes this as well! While I don’t want to be or to appear selfish in following this ministry desire and opportunity, I want to go where my Lord and Father and Spirit are leading me, especially after the two prior instances I shared earlier. Here, MY cost of discipleship– even though I have been a believer for sixteen years– is I have been informed that, in order to serve as a missionary chaplain, I must renounce my visitation rights with both of my friends and brothers. (I believe it is a prison regulation, rather than a ministry requirement.)

One of my brothers is at a facility which is about an hour away, while the other is a solid two hours from where we live. It is not often that we are able to see one another due to distance, our schedules, commitments and other things. The younger brother would probably understand, as he would be happy for me and would want me to serve God however, whenever and wherever He leads, although I don’t believe he currently has anyone else on his visitation list. But he would probably also be somewhat disappointed. The older brother was diagnosed with cancer several months ago and has been undergoing treatment for that for quite some time. He has no one else on his visitation list. I have not been able to see either one of them for a while, but we do write each other. On the surface and practically speaking, not much would really change. The thing that pricks my heart is the “finality” of the decision that my very dear friends might feel because of my choice, perhaps even a sense of abandonment. That is the last thing I want.

I can most certainly relate to the text the Lord has placed before us. When Messiah speaks in verse 58, He is asking me and you to be aware of what we may encounter or have to sacrifice in order to follow after Him. In verse 60, He responds by dismissing the many seemingly relevant or necessary cares of our daily lives and relationships in lieu of committed and devoted service to our King to “proclaim the kingdom of God.” This is what I am going to be doing and what we are all called to do as Christians. Lastly, in verse 62, He puts a loving, yet pointed emphasis on the cost of discipleship, obedience and ministry by telling us we are “not fit [useful]” for the kingdom of God if we are not willing to put His priorities and our relationship with Him first.

I believe He is giving us two reasons, two meanings, in this verse. The first is to those who are following but have not yet been born-again of the Spirit of God. Our Lord Jesus is honestly letting them (us) know upfront so we can consider our calling, be devoted, not experience a lack of faith, not fall away or have undue fear when trials, tribulations and afflictions come; and they will. He counted His cost when choosing to die and be executed in our place. God did not hide this from Him or sugarcoat His role in history. The second meaning is for those of us who are already sons and daughters of the Most High God, like me. He is informing us that we need to go forward. If it is my desire to fulfill my calling, to be obedient and to walk in that which I was created to do, I cannot allow my feelings (distractions) to keep me from doing the work He has called, prepared and equipped me to do.

In fact, if we go just a little beyond Luke 9:57-62 to Luke 10:1-2 (the very next two verses), scripture affirms the necessity of, and reason for, those admonitions. The Master of our souls says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” I am absolutely convinced that when we knowingly or unwittingly water-down the Gospel to make the Christian life more palatable (less costly) in order to save souls (this is either our true intention or a convincing lie and strategy of the devil), this does and will do extensive damage to the very souls we want to receive eternal life. What always comes to mind is the scripture the Holy Spirit uses in Matthew 7:23 when the Lord uses the frightening words we never want to hear spoken to us, “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’” The context in verses 21-23 is of a different nature, but I believe the principle is the same. We don’t want to follow after our Lord with a wrong perception of what becoming a Christian is or what it entails in this life. If we say “Yes” to our Redeemer because of feelings or a release of burdens only, we may one day become disenchanted. If we answer an altar call in response to a weak or non-informing word to “accept Jesus into our hearts” and little else, we have no foundation on which to build our sincere but questionable faith and will not survive the storms of life. If we are led to believe and walk in blessings (which are indeed promised rewards for obedient lovers of the Most High), but not lovingly counseled and prepared for the difficulties of living in and sojourning through a foreign land (not our eternal home) filled with idolatry, false doctrine and teaching, sensuality, immorality and other lures and desires of our flesh, we will quite probably become an apostate, or someone who “falls away” from the faith (Read the extreme dangers of this found in Hebrews chapter six).

So I am convinced, as I hope you now are, that we must be willing to follow wherever, however, and whenever He leads us. We may leave behind or alienate friends, family, habits, comfort, familiarity, material goods, job opportunities, careers and relationships. We ask God to reveal His will to us and when He does, we are tempted to disobey. We must not ever even consider it. It is not an option. We must be the Light He has called us to be. This life is not our own. We were bought with a price. This world is not our home. There is too much at stake. Praise God for His Word! Remember our Lord’s words to encourage the apostle Paul and us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you [to help you], for My power is made perfect in [your] weakness.”
God bless you friends, brothers and sisters. He has certainly blessed me.

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