There is both good and bad in the fact that the cross has become a very familiar sight in our world. We see it everywhere we turn from buildings to jewelry. The message of the cross is so simple a child can understand, yet it is so rich that even if we were to spend every waking moment of our entire lives studying it we would fail to mine all the riches to be found there. In this series we will seek to mine some of those riches and spark a passion in each of us to pray as the hymn writer wrote “Jesus, keep me near the cross.”
As Jesus progresses through His final week the conflict with the religious leaders intensifies. Jesus’ responses to the religious leaders questions that are meant to trap Him become more and more direct and reveal the reality that not all who witness lives of sacrifice for the glory of God will rejoice and celebrate. Yet, Mark also drives home the truth that God will remember and empower those who live sacrificially for Him.
Jesus is now set on journey to Jerusalem to complete the purpose for which He came. As He sets out on this final phase of His earthly ministry He is committed to guiding the disciples in understanding not only that He is the Son of God but that His kingdom will be established by way of the cross. They, and we, must understand this in order to understand the path of true discipleship and the power of profound servanthood in everyday life.
There is a tendency to think that if we maintain a measure of familiarity with Jesus Christ that we are safe. We are safe because Jesus is a part of our lives so we are on good terms with him. We are safe because Jesus is at a safe distance in which we can control what we will listen to and what we will filter out when it comes to obedience and doing his will. However, Mark 6 tells a different story. It teaches that familiarity with Jesus is actually a very dangerous place to be. Instead, Jesus desires that we pursue dependence on him, because that is the only place in which we can find true intimacy with him.
They called him the ‘Flying Scot’ and he was Britain’s Golden Boy. If anyone could win the country a gold medal he could. But Eric Liddell went from Golden Boy to turncoat because of his refusal to compete in the 100 meter, since the finals for the event were to take place on Sunday.
Despite the opposition Liddell stuck with his decision and switched events. Instead of competing in the 100 meter he would enter the 400 meter. Many thought this an absurd decision and held very low expectations for success. The two races required vastly different strategies and technique.
But the strategy paid off for Liddell. Not only did he win the 400 meter, be he also tied the Olympic record for the event with a blistering time of 47.6 seconds.
It is hard for many of us to understand why a man who was nearer a sure thing in one race would give all that up and risk embarrassment just because of what day of the week an event’s final was scheduled to take place. Why would a man willingly face the ridicule of being called a traitor by his own countrymen all over something as petty as a day? Why would a man devote his life to a race and then shortly before the dream became a reality throw it all away only to begin a new rigorous training program in an event so foreign to him? Like the British officials who coined the ‘Flying Scot’ a traitor, other adjectives like ‘crazy’ and ‘not all there’ come to our minds.
But when you look at what was behind Liddell’s decision it makes things clearer. Eric was a devout believer in Jesus Christ. Everything he did in life he did for Jesus Christ, including running. When it came to making choices the driving force was his relationship with God through Jesus Christ and not his advancing of a talent, or gaining the applause of others. His god was God and not his giftedness.
Still for some of us this is utter insanity and flies in the face of what we consider common sense. Why would anyone do something like this and give up so much? Couldn’t he have honored God and raced in the event he had trained so hard for? What kind of God would require such a thing as giving up your dream? What we must realize is we’ve only heard half of the story, and though at this point it seems Liddell gave up so much, in reality he gained far more than he ever lost.
Liddell may have voluntarily removed himself from the 100 meter competition but his entrance into the 400 meter competition resulted in a gold medal and a share of the Olympic record that stood for several years. His exploits inspired the Academy Award-winning film, “Chariots of Fire”, and all this began because a man chose to stand on his convictions and live by them.
As a young boy I used to play a game with my friends called “What If” in which we would take the situation we were in and try to imagine all the possible outcomes. This was one of my favorite games because it stretched my imagination to all kinds of fascinating places. I realized through that game that there is no limit to the possibilities in the realm of “What If”.
I’m sure Eric Liddell played a round or two of the “What If” game as he was making his decision to not run the 100 meter. Only he knows what he thought the various outcomes would be, but I would daresay he never imagined it would end up like it did.
The ‘Flying Scot’ chose the reality of putting God before his running and the sacrifice ended up being far less than the reward.
How about we play one round of “What If” right now and you fill in the blank. What if I (insert your name) __________ put God before __________ (choose something of value to you)? Would you be willing to sacrifice all that is important to you for Him?
…which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?
Have we lost the fine art of counting the cost in our lives? I certainly don’t believe we have lost the language of counting the cost. I hear it all the time from people, and I believe the intent behind that talk is genuine. But far too often the intent and the language are more out of impulse. So when the rubber meets the road so to speak the language changes, the intent shifts, and what we hear are things like, this is not what I signed up for.
Throughtout my years in ministry I have encountered this phenomenon a number of times. I honestly can’t fault people for it, because I genuinely believe that they genuinely believe they really want what they are saying they want. The problem comes when we begin considering expectations. When we think of ‘building our tower’, most of us have a preconcieved view of how that reality will play itself out. This reality is usually based on our past experiences, our preferences, and our expectations. We are the builders, we have a set of blueprints and if all goes according to plan than our tower will look exactly as we planned. When things start looking incredibly different than the blueprints we have in our minds and the tower starts looking more like a haunted castle to us than our beautiful tower we want plausible deniability. We want to know where things went wrong. We just want to forget this experiment that has gone horribly wrong, at least that’s what we think.
Have we lost the art of counting the cost in our lives? What if genuinely believe we have count the cost and the whole process deviates from the blueprints, are we willing to see the project through to completion? I believe this is one of the most critical question for established churches for the next several years, maybe even decades. The majority of established churches in America are experiencing the reality that their membership is getting older and older which also brings the reality that if something doesn’t change they will be closing their doors within the next 10-20 years unless these churches begin reaching younger generations, but experience has shown that reaching younger generations is not going to happen with the same methods that were used to reach people in the past. The same gospel will reach them, as it always has, but it must be presented in the language of their culture. And it doesn’t take much more than a passing glance to recognize and acknowledge that culture has changed significantly even in the past 15 years. It is safe to say that for most of us our own neighborhoods have become a foreign mission field and we must become students of that culture if we are to reach our neighbors. It reminds me of the sons of Issaachar who were praised for their commitment to understanding the times in which they lived so that they could formulate a plan for what their nation should do. And therein, I believe, is the key to counting the cost of building our towers today. Our blueprints must include an understanding of the times in which we live, and from that understanding our blueprints will reveal to us how to build the tower.
One final thought. It was Jesus who first shared these words about counting the cost. If anyone knew the high price of counting the cost it was Jesus. The cost to Him was a sacrifice beyond any we can imagine, with a reward far greater than any we can imagine. Paul’s letter to the Philippian church clearly lays out just how great a sacrifice Jesus made that we may have the hope of new life in Him. So, when we count the cost is it all about whether we are willing to make the sacrifices that it will, yes will, require, or is it more of a negotiation of terms? A statement of this far and no more rather than whatever it takes. Jesus’ intent was whatever it takes to complete the task. Whatever it takes to advance the kingdom of God for which Jesus died and rose again. It will be the greatest sacrifice we will ever make, but it will also reap the greatest reward we could ever hope or imagine. I think that’s exactly what we all signed up for.