Authentic Christianity: July 11, 2016
Think about: I first saw the phrase “authentic Christianity” as the title of a book I came across sometime around 1975. I purchased the book, and it challenged me to understand what counting the cost, as explained in Luke 14:25-33, meant.
I had started seriously following Jesus about two years before I read that book, and I spent the first two years of my newly found faith learning as much as I could about Jesus and the practice of Christianity from books written by people other than God. I also read God’s Word prayerfully, but I like to distinguish between books written about Jesus and the one written by Jesus because I eventually concluded that the final word had to be His. After seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I do not question what Jesus says, but I read the other books critically.
The parable of counting the cost tells us how to be authentic followers of Jesus. Being authentic means practicing what we say we believe. It means living in a way that glorifies God. It means being Jesus to those around us. It means giving all you have and all you are and all you will be to Jesus.
Counting the cost is an interesting exercise. First, it lets us understand what the price of following Jesus might be. Jesus tells us that we must take up our cross and follow him if we want to be true disciples. This is his first reference to the cross, and it comes long before anyone around him could fully understand its significance. Authenticity is expensive. We have to give up our ambitions, our hopes and our dreams, and if God calls us to do it, we have to give up those we love as well. Jesus wants us to know that anything is possible; the cost may be higher than we can imagine.
Simply enough, we must give up our free will. Jesus frees us, but not to do anything we want to do. He frees us from sin so we can do his will, not our own.
Pray this prayer: Lord Jesus, reveal to me what following you is costing me. Let me know if I am strong enough — if I love you enough — to carry my cross. Lead me to the foot of your cross so that I can lay my life at your feet. Amen.
Discipleship: July 13, 2016
Think about: Jesus often teaches in metaphors and symbols, so it is helpful sometimes to read a modern day paraphrase of Scripture like The Message to get a sense of what he is trying to say. For instance he tells Nicodemus that he must be born again to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus takes it literally when Jesus means it metaphorically. He tells the Samaritan woman at the well that she will drink living water and will no longer be thirsty. She takes it literally and thinks she can actually rid herself of thirst if she drinks the water Jesus is offering.
It is important that we understand spiritually what Jesus is saying. In the Revised Standard Bible he says we must hate our family members. What he is really saying is that, if we intend to be his disciples — authentic Christians — we have to be prepared to put him and his work ahead of the people we love and cherish. No doubt, as the Apostles spread his message across the world as they knew it, many of them had to do just that. Even today, in some places in the world, people who choose to follow Jesus must not only turn away from family members and other loved ones but may even face death.
In simple terms, Jesus wants us to put him and his work first — but not only. We must be in the world to do his work as he did, but we must be willing to give up our own personal ambitions.
I used to be a counselor for Youth for Christ, and we suggested young people remember a simple achronym with a deeper significance. JOY meant Jesus first, Others second, You third. That should be the result of counting the cost.
Pray this prayer: Father, I thank you for your word. Without it we would never know what you expect of us, and we wouldn’t know how to glorify you. I thank you as well for your living Word and for the example he sets for us. Teach me, Father. Amen.
The Alternative: July 15, 2016
Think about: OK, so you count the cost of following Jesus and you decide it is too high. Then what? What’s the alternative?
Remember the Jesus is speaking to large groups of people — Jesus groupies — and they were not necessarily tuned into the concept of eternal life. For that reason, I don’t think Jesus expects them to be wondering what counting the cost has to do with the end result. So we must count the cost of living the life he has called us to live here and now.
Counting the cost prepares us for what may come that we can’t really anticipate. Will we trust God when we are told that we are suffering from a life-threatening disease? Can we accept God’s will for us when one of our children gets into trouble or into an accident and is severely injured or worse? How will we handle the crises that face us?
What about the good times? If God blesses us with wealth, status, and good health, what will we do with those things? Will we use them to advance our ambitions or recognize that God expects us to use them to advance his goals as Jesus would?
The alternative to following Jesus might be much more appealing that the concept of turning our lives and all that we are over to God to do with as he wants to do. Yet if we say we are following Jesus, that’s what he expects of us, nothing less than total commitment with our eyes wide open. No matter what, we are to trust and obey. It’s that simple.
Pray this prayer: I have decided to follow Jesus. There can be no turning back. He won’t let me, because I am his. Thank you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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