October 2016 Pastor's Pen

 The Pastor’s Pen October 2016 “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. ” Luke 14: 27

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and a cross, but the crowd thinks that he is on his way to Jerusalem and a crown. They consider Jesus a "winner," and follow him so that they too might win. Jesus teaches them that discipleship carries a high price tag. Those who aspire to follow him need to count the cost before signing on the dotted line.

Jesus demands commitment, an unpopular word these days. We are tempted, in the interest of filling pews, to promise a Lexus in every garage and a Rolex on every wrist. We are tempted not to challenge people to faithful stewardship — and faithful worship attendance — and honest business practices — and compassion for the less fortunate — and other costly commitments. We hope that, perhaps if we don't ask too much, visitors will return. The irony is that churches with high standards attract people with high standards. Their integrity and commitment draw others.

Jesus does not make discipleship easy. He does not offer an easy payment plan. He never tries to disguise the cost of discipleship. Instead, he writes the price tag large for all to see. But Jesus doesn't require anything of his disciples that he himself is not willing to give. Luke told us earlier that Jesus "set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51) to the place where he will die on a cross. When Jesus uttered these words He was on the road to Jerusalem, knowing what awaited him there.

Jesus isn't interested in helping us to win a prize for dying with the most toys. He is interested in showing us how to die to self and in the process how to live for God. The question, then, is why we should bother. Why should anyone become a disciple of Christ? What's in it for me?

The first answer to that question — "What's in it for me... for us?" — is that it's the wrong question. Jesus calls us to become God-focused — other-focused — to serve others — to give instead of to get. The person who asks, "What's in it for me?" is asking the wrong question.

But the second answer to that question — "What's in it for us?" — is that Jesus brings a lot to the table. He comes to save us! To save us from what?

      Jesus comes to save us from life without purpose, from life adrift. He calls us to become instruments of God's purposes... to become light to overcome the darkness... salt to transform a tasteless world... leaven to leaven the whole loaf.

      Jesus comes to save us from hollow lives. When living only for self, we believe that, if we can just get enough "stuff", it will fill up the hollow places, but it never does. Selfishness is a black hole that sucks up everything and gives back nothing. No selfish person can ever get enough "stuff" to fill the dark, empty center of his or her life.

      Jesus comes to bring us eternal life. In the New Testament, eternal life is more than life without end; it is life lived in the presence of God. We don't have to wait for death to experience eternal life. We can experience life in the presence of God here and now. We can experience it today. And we will also experience it forever.

Many of you know what I am talking about, because you have experienced it. You live in the presence of God. You feel God's presence in good times and bad — whether you are on a mountaintop or in the valley of the shadow of death. In fact, most of us have experienced the presence of God but some people experience it more intensely. Every congregation has a few people whom everyone knows as saints. We have some here — people known for their Christlikeness — for their gentleness — for their generosity — for their kindness — for their love. I could name a few, but it would only embarrass them. They would say, "Not me! I'm no saint! I'm nobody special! I'm just an ordinary person!" And in a sense that is true! They are ordinary people, but because they let Christ direct their lives, they have become something extraordinary.

There is something beautiful about those saints. We love to be around them, because we see in them a lovely peacefulness — something deep and authentic — rock-solid strength. And their lives bear the fruits of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22- 23). When I am around people like that, I find myself wishing that I could be like that. I admire their deep faith and envy the beauty and strength of their lives.

But Christ offers to do that for us. He offers to take our old person and to rebuild it from the ground up. He offers to take our lumpy old clay and to sculpt a new and beautiful person — a person known for love — for joy — for patience — for faith. But he warns at the outset that it will be expensive. We have to give him everything; all that we have and all that we are. Count the cost, he says. Then, if you dare, come and follow me. See you in worship, Pastor Ken