Sermon Series: Things that make a difference
Prior to investing in any business, investors require a business plan be presented. As potential investors review a business plan they weigh how much they will put in against the return they will get from their investment. Wise investors always want to know is the venture going to experience cost overruns and revenue shortfalls? The bottom-line in all cases is, will our profits eclipse our investment?
In order to answer these questions a cost/benefit analysis is needed. By definition, a cost/benefit analysis consists of weighing the projected costs of a venture against the anticipated benefits. If the costs outweigh the benefits prospective backers are cautioned to invest at their own risk. On the other hand, if the benefits are found to outweigh the costs investors are encouraged to lend their support to the venture. The practice of engaging in a cost/benefit analysis is not only limited to business, but can be applied to any endeavor or venture people desire to pursue. Prior to supporting any cause, before we engage in a long-term relationship, or make a major purchase, we would be wise to conduct a cost/benefit analysis. It would be prudent to examine and weigh what we will be required to put in against what we can expect to get out. Will the return we receive be equal to or greater than our investment?
While most people understand the need to conduct a cost/benefit analysis in business and in our life pursuits, what about spiritual things? In the 14th chapter of the gospel of Luke, Jesus encouraged those who were considering becoming His followers to count the cost prior to offering their service to His cause. As word spread throughout the region and area where Jesus ministered the crowds that came to hear him swelled and became larger and larger. Sociologists suggest that, crowds attract crowds. In any large gathering there will always be individuals who are there out of sheer curiosity and simply want to see and know what is happening. Jesus was fully aware of this fact and wanted to hammer home the understanding that He was not a circus attraction that was passing through the area stopping at various villages and towns. Jesus was taking aim at some of the attitudes that pervaded His day and still persist unto today. There were some who saw Jesus as someone who would champion their cause. One of the problems with causes is that they tend to get people riled up by stoking the flames of passion and emotion. People will support a cause because it appeals to them on some level. Of course there are various levels of support that a person can offer to a cause. I myself will sign a petition or two if I believe that the cause is noble or worthy. Although, I must admit that I am not much for rallies and those sort of things. Nonetheless, signing a petition is a form of support. There are others who because of their level of commitment and belief will get in at the grass roots level and knock on doors, hand out leaflets, or actually solicit to obtain financial support. For these individuals the import and propagation of the cause are a top priority.
As Jesus was on His way to fulfill His date with the cross, He turned to those who were following Him and threw down the gauntlet. Jesus issued a challenge to all who desired to follow Him. The challenge that Jesus issued was in the form of a statement, “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.” Within this statement Jesus issues a two-part challenge to would be followers then and now:
a) Make me (Jesus) the #1 priority in your life
b) Accept your share and stake in my mission and ministry
At the heart of Jesus’ challenge is the issue of commitment. Commitment is the stuff relationships are made of. One of the greatest threats to any relationship is other people. This goes for our relationship with our spouses, children, friends, etc. It especially applies to our relationship with Jesus. Plain and simple, people get in the way. Wherever there are other people involved there will also be competing wants, needs, and desires that will squeeze us and put us in the uncomfortable position of having to make choices between individuals, groups, and relationships. Consider the spouse who wants nothing more than to fulfill their obligation to be responsible and provide for their family. As they sacrifice family time in order to not only make ends meet but build a little extra cushion they are accused of not caring about their family, because they are spending too much time at work.
Another threat to our relationship with others and with Jesus is self. There are times when we are faced with the choice of needing or wanting to do things for ourselves, but our desire to take care of ourselves is seen as being in conflict with what others need or want from us at the same time. In times like these we are considered selfish, inconsiderate, and so on. We are made to feel guilty because we have chosen to take time out for self at the expense of our commitment to family and job.
In both cases the demands of others and the demands we place on ourselves leave us with very little else to give. The old saying is, “nothing from nothing leaves nothing.” To combat the empty and drained feeling we so often experience by trying to be all things to all people, Jesus instructs us to reorder our priorities. Put Jesus first and everyone else take a number. Jesus points out that commitment is an action word and not lip service. Commitment proves itself by its actions toward another. Part of the marriage vows state, “Forsaking all others.” The presumption is that if you are my one then there can be no other one. The slogan for the state of Missouri is “The show me state.” Jesus calls us to show how much we are committed to Him by making Him the first priority in our lives.
Jesus goes on to add that we further demonstrate our commitment to Him by taking up our cross. This is an interesting concept because the cross was something that was put on Jesus. Jesus did not necessarily say, OK, here I am nail me on the cross. Jesus’ assignment was to be executed on the cross. He was made to carry the instrument of His execution to the place where the execution would take place, and He accepted His assignment without uttering a word. How is that for commitment? The word cross in Greek is “starous,” it means “an upright stake.” Jesus was letting His followers know that each of us has a “starous,” as His followers we each have our own stake in His ministry and mission. When we choose to take up our “starous” we must also understand that it will be accompanied by pain and suffering. Each persons “starous” is different and specific to us individually. As we take up our “starous,” we are identifying with Jesus by enduring what He endured. His challenges become our challenges and His suffering becomes our suffering.
After Jesus issued the challenge, He then asks the people to consider and count the cost of being His follower. Jesus offers up two parables that are designed to help His hearers weigh the cost of following Him against the potential benefits of following Him.
In the first parable Jesus describes a king who wants to build a tower. He lays the foundation, but failed to estimate the cost of the building project and was forced to abandon the project because he ran out of funds. One of my favorite lines is from Hamlet in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Hamlet says, “To thine own self be true.” It is no secret that the most damaging lie is the one we tell to ourselves. When it comes to our spiritual life and Christian service we must be aware that the desire to do and accomplish is not enough. Prior to engaging in any activity or serving in any office we would be wise to honestly assess our level of investment. It would be a good idea to ask ourselves how much do I have to give and can I see my commitment through until the end?
In essence before we commit, we need to consider. To help us consider we only need to conduct a personal inventory:
- Do I have the time?
- Do I have the energy that is required?
- What can get in the way of me keeping my commitment?
- What have I failed to account for?
- Do I have any other open projects?
- What does my track record say about completion and me?
While no one likes to admit that they are great starters but poor finishers, being honest with ourselves in the beginning will save us from being humbled or humiliated in the end. Jesus asks us to be honest with ourselves first and then be honest with Him. The Bible says, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” Charles Francis Adams, 19th century political figure and diplomat, kept a diary. One day he entered: “Went fishing with my son today—a day wasted.” His son, Brook Adams also kept a diary, which is still in existence. On that same day, Brook Adams made this entry: “Went fishing with my father—the most wonderful day of my life!” The father thought he was wasting his time while fishing with his son, but his son saw it as an investment of time. The only way to tell the difference between wasting and investing is to know one’s ultimate purpose in life and to judge accordingly. There are some who believe that Christian service is a colossal waste of time and there are others who would not have it any other way. Jesus asks us to consider whether or not we are willing to invest our time, our resources, and our person in His service, mission, and ministry or is it simply a waste of our time.
The second parable Jesus lifts up is a king who wants to go to war with another king, but must first decide whether or not he has the resources to be successful. In this parable Jesus is asking His followers to consider the consequences. There is an old saying that says, “When you buy something for a song, you may have to face the music later.” In 1916 Hattie Green died. Hattie’s estate was valued at over $100 million at the time of her death. Yet, Hattie lived in poverty. She ate cold oatmeal because it cost money to heat it. When her son’s leg became infected, Hattie wouldn’t get it treated until she could find a clinic that wouldn’t charge her. By then, her son’s leg had to be amputated. Hattie died arguing over the value of skim milk. She had money to meet her every need, but she chose to live as if it didn’t exist.
Jesus asks us to consider the consequences of how we use both our human and material resources. Will we commit them to Him and apply them to His service, or will we hoard them and use them to further our own ends? The reality is that time is the great equalizer. Eventually, our physical strength will wear out and the things we treasure will be of no use to us. We must ask ourselves what do we do at this point? Sickness, affliction, and hard times have a way of humbling even the strongest person. Usually it is after we have been humbled that we either find God or seek God. Unfortunately in some cases it is too late. Jesus reminds us that at some point everyone will have to meet God, the question is do we want to meet God now while the terms are favorable or do we want to wait for a later time when the terms may not be as favorable? I would rather have God and not need Him, then need God and not have Him. Consider the consequences.
Jesus concludes the parables by declaring “Anyone who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” Discipleship requires a total commitment. Discipleship is not for the half-hearted or anyone on the fence. Jesus who gave all of Himself for us before we were born is asking us to give all of ourselves to Him while we are still alive. Jesus instructs us to carefully consider what it will cost us to be His disciple and to thoughtfully pledge our allegiance to Him.
As we have examined the cost, now let us examine the benefits of following Jesus. Jesus compares His followers to salt. There are two characteristics of salt that are most impressive. The first is that salt changes the composition of whatever it is added to, and the second is that salt changes the flavor of whatever it is added to. The disciples of Jesus are people who make an impact. Christ transforms men and women, boys and girls who give themselves totally over to Him into people who make an impact. Wherever they go the presence of Christ in them changes the composition of a room, school, church, home, and family. The presence of Christ in them transforms that which is bland and gives it spice and adds flavor. The benefit of following Christ is that He will transform us into people who matter, people who make an impact. Imagine if we give ourselves over totally to Christ how much better the world would be and how much better off those around us would become. On the other hand, bland disciples are dismissed. They have lost their saltiness, they have lost their power to impact, create and bring about change and so they are dismissed. I personally would rather become a person of impact than a person who is dismissed. People who make an impact also make a difference. They make an impact in the lives of their family, spouses, children, friends, loved ones, and even casual acquaintances. They are differences makers.