Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Contract

Today's passage from Luke 14 comes "marked up" with the heading, The Cost of Discipleship.  Not that the ESV translators were totally off base. But, in fact, there are three things Jesus says are the costs of discipleship.  They are actually three contractual challenges, and I have broken up the text below so you can see them:

1)  If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

2)  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

(For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.)

3)  So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple."

Now, before you start thinking what hard, unreasonable things these are for Jesus to say or dismiss them as some kind of sweet pietism as if Jesus meant them figuratively, it would be good to know that in the First Century most rabbis had disciples, and any good rabbi would have clearly laid out the contract that was necessary for a young man to study (we would say "follow") a particular rabbi and his teaching.    For purposes of our discussion though, let's be gender-neutral.  The Contract of Discipleship that Jesus lays out here applies to all, men or women, who would follow him.  And I will make three even more radical statements: Jesus actually meant what he said.  Jesus actually did what he told us to do.  Jesus actually means us to do what he asks.

The Contract can be condensed like this:
No questions asked
No matter what
No cost too great

No questions asked.   Someone once told a group of us in a message he was preaching that, in boot camp if the drill sergeant tells you you're going to clean toilets with a toothbrush the proper answer is a snap to attention, a salute, and "Just happy to be here, sir." I don't know if that's true, but it certainly sums up the first clause of the contract.  Jesus is not telling you that you have to actively hate your family.  The greek word isn't usually translated that way.  But he is asking us what our intentions are toward him.  That's why he frames the clause in terms of family relationships.  What is your intent?  Your intent must be to place Christ first in all situations, even when it appears that you have chosen him over your spouse, your children, your parents.  That's what Jesus means when he quizzes Peter on the beach in John 21.  "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"  "Yes, Lord," Peter replied, "You know that I love you."  No questions asked.

No matter what.  In expressing this second clause, Jesus is laying out for us the extent of our service and how far we have to be willing to go with him.  If you want to be a disciple and someday someone compels you to carry a cross out of the city and up to a hill where you will be crucified because you bear the name of Christ, the question has already been settled.  You will do it.  When the early Christian martyr Polycarp was put to death in 168 AD, the judge tied him to a stake on a pile of wood and said, "Sware, and I will set you free; reproach Christ!" Polycarp's famous response was, "Eighty and six years have I now served Christ, and he has never done me the least wrong: How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?" No matter what.

No cost too great.  It is interesting that Jesus doesn't explain either of the other clauses, but feels that he really needs to explain the third one.  You could say he's explaining all three here, but I definitely think the economics lesson is aimed at the third clause in particular.  What does it mean to renounce everything you own?  Over the years I have managed to acquire a great many sentimental trinkets, tokens of the joys of life, and family heirlooms.  I suppose we've all played the revealing little party game where we're made to decide what 3 items we would rescue if our house were on fire.  That would be tough in my case.  But what if that weren't an option?  Jesus isn't telling us to get rid of all of our possessions and go wear hair shirts and live like monks.  But he is telling any would-be disciple that we are to offer any and all of our possessions in service to the Master at any time.  None of it belongs to me anyway.  What a joy to spend it extravagantly on him!  That way when someday he asks you to turn the key in the lock and simply walk away empty-handed, you'll do it.  No cost is too great.

Jesus doesn't put these terms before us because he wants to cause us pain.  Quite the opposite.  Jesus knows how painful life can be and what kinds of twists and turns it offers.  Settle these three questions today if you haven't already, and decide that if it comes down to a choice between following Jesus and your family.  Jesus comes first.  If it comes down to a choice between living on your terms and dying on his, Jesus comes first.  And if it comes down to a choice between having beautiful things around you with money in the bank or walking with Jesus, Jesus comes first.  No questions asked, no matter what, no cost too great.


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