Tag Archives: commitment

The Cost of Serving the King: Lessons in Discipleship

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

Luke 14:28-33 (NASB)

The twin parables of the Tower Builder and the King Going to War (Luke 14:28-33) focus on the self-examination necessary to make a decision for surrendering to the call of Jesus. The ultimate commitment is demanded of every disciple. No one should make such a decision rashly. Just as cost estimation is needed to build a tower in a field and intense strategic planning is required to wage war, the one considering discipleship must weigh the cost. To complete the task successfully, one must consider each demand in Jesus’ teachings concerning the kingdom of heaven. Only after intensive self-testing should the decision be made to follow Jesus in his call to radical discipleship.

-Brad H. Young
“Chapter 12: The Decision: The Tower Builder and the King Going to War,” pg 222
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I can’t believe the day after I published this blog post discussing, in part, what it is to truly surrender our lives to Messiah and acknowledge him as Lord, that I should read the opening words of this chapter which address the same thing.

Many Evangelicals consider their work done when they inspire a person to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord by making some sort of initial statement. That person is “saved.” Move on to the next poor, lost soul.

Except I think the process of “salvation” may be more than a point event. I think it’s a process, sometimes a long process, before anyone actually arrives at the place where they recognize the very real cost of becoming a disciple of the Master and what it will really take to “surrender all” and to follow him. We are told to count the cost of becoming a disciple, making what, for all intents and purposes, is an irrevocable vow, and then binding ourselves in servitude to him, following our Master in all he desires from us.

D. Thomas Lancaster in his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, addressed the ancient practice of teaching initiates into Messianic discipleship in two messages: Instructions About Washings and The Initiation. By comparison, what do we do today in the Christian Church to prepare those we have brought to the beginning knowledge of Christ to count the cost, leave their former lives behind them, pick up their cross and to follow him?

Not darn much, for the most part.

No disciple should begin training in the kingdom of God unless he or she has recognized fully the insistent demands of total commitment and has determined to shoulder the responsibilities with unrelenting resolve.

-ibid

How many of us, as believers, possess “unrelenting resolve,” especially in America where we are pretty much fat and happy? And if we are not prepared for the challenges of being a disciple, will be face the same consequences as one who starts building a tower and cannot finish or a King who goes into war and has his army smashed?

An ignominious defeat will ruin a king, destroy his kingdom, and cost him everything. The disciple’s defeat can be just as devastating.

-ibid, pg 223

FallingIn response to a “leap-before-you-look” kind of religious zeal that leads many people to “accept Christ” before knowing anything about him and what he requires, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, in his book Growth Through Torah (pg 358) responds with this advice:

“A Torah scholar should be consulted whenever questions arise.”

In the case of Christianity, the very people who are out evangelizing should be the ones urging each potential initiate to be cautious. Do not be premature. Learn. Study. Discover who this Jesus Christ is and what you must truly pay in order to follow him on his path.

For Luke these parables form a complex of teachings focusing on radical discipleship. Hating one’s parents or dying for one’s beliefs are concepts that perplex and challenge.

-Young, pg 223

Unfortunately, potential disciples are not told the truth of Messiah upfront. Often they (we) take months, years, or even decades to discover (if we are fortunate ever to do so) the cost of following the King of the Jews.

For Christianity, the cross has become more a symbol of salvation than a call to radical discipleship.

-ibid, pg 224

We tell people about salvation, forgiveness of sins as a free gift of Christ, an eternal life of bliss up in Heaven with Jesus, and all the really attractive stuff. We never tell them what they have to do once they “sign on the dotted line.”

But the danger of diluting Jesus’ radical call to action by spiritualizing his practical teachings is never very far removed from the preaching of salvation through the cross. In the teachings of Jesus, in contrast, the image of the cross was a call to radical discipleship. One must hear and obey. The stress was not on salvation but on obedience. The fear of God is rooted in the wisdom obtained through Torah learning and active involvement in fulfilling wisdom’s teaching.

-ibid

By wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is established;
And by knowledge the rooms are filled
With all precious and pleasant riches.
A wise man is strong,
And a man of knowledge increases power.
For by wise guidance you will wage war,
And in abundance of counselors there is victory.

Proverbs 24:3-6 (NASB)

Knowledge and wisdom are absolute requirements before beginning to design and build a structure, whether it be a tower or a house. If you go in blind, depending on taking someone else’s word that everything will work out fine if you just “accept Jesus into your heart,” the walls could end up falling down around your ears.

Young ponders whether or not Jesus had Proverbs 24 in mind as he crafted his parables and believes it is likely. I suppose it’s possible Paul also was thinking in that direction:

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.

Romans 10:1-2 (NASB)

In my previous commentary on these verses, I mentioned that information was not lacking among the Jewish devout, but specific knowledge about how Jesus was and is the goal, the aim, the focusing crystal and makes the meaning of the Torah so much more clear was lacking in some, just as the basic, elemental principles of Christian faith are often lacking, not just in new converts to the faith today, but people who have been in the Church for years.

It is true that works without faith is dead, but what about an uninformed faith? Can you consent to give your life to something you don’t understand? Are you held accountable to words you cannot fathom? Actually, I believe you can.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)

awareness-of-godJesus connects lawlessness with those who bear no fruit, that is, they do not lead lives transformed by their faith, and there is no evidence of the Spirit in their daily lives and no obedience to God. How can this be unless they have not actually, truly surrendered all of who they are (we are) to the demands of a very demanding King and Master. If Jesus is the Lord of our lives, then he may command anything and we must obey.

For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

Luke 7:8 (NASB)

The Roman Centurion “got it,” but that’s what we can expect of a man who served in a brutal military hierarchy under the reign of an unrelenting Emperor.

Like I said, in America, in the church as well as anywhere else, we’re too “fat and happy”. We think discipline is going to the gym three or four days a week.

R. Samuel bar Nahman said in the name of R. Jonathan: By what parable may the verse just above be explained? By that of a king who lived in a certain principality. When the people of the principality provoked him, the king was angered [and would not abide in their midst]. He removed himself some ten miles from the city before he stopped. A man who saw him went to the people in the city and said: Know that the king is angry at you and may well send legions against the city to destroy it. Go out and appease him before he removes himself still further away from you. Thereupon a wise man who was standing by said to the people: Fools, while he was in your midst, you did not seek him. Now, before he moves further away, seek him out. He may receive you. Hence it is said “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found” (Isa. 55:6)…

See Pesik. Rab Kab., suppl. 7:3 (Pesikta Derav Kahana, ed. Mandelbaum, 2:472; English trans., Braude and Kapstein, Kahana, 491). Cf. the discussion of McArthur and Johnson, Parables, 194, as quoted by Young pg 227

But it is also said:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?

Romans 10:14-15 (NASB)

And yet in verse 13, Paul states, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But you can’t call on someone you do not know. And you cannot know someone unless you learn of them, spend time with them, discover the desire of their heart. You cannot commit unless you are willing. You cannot commit unless you understand and agree to the price of commitment. We’re all taught about the “free gift of salvation” but never about the “real cost of discipleship.”

Joshua the son of Perachia and Nitai the Arbelite received from them. Joshua the son of Perachia would say: Assume for yourself a teacher…

-Pirkei Avot 1:6

It’s ironic that in considering the cost, some might believe it is too high and then choose not to follow. However in the end, the cost of refusing to become indentured servants of the great King is higher still.

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Day Zero

divide-by-zeroThat fall, Pastor S. from a church in another county came to our church to share in a morning service how they felt led to the mission field and were going to go to another country. S. shared his testimony followed by his wife L. L’s testimony paralleled my life closely, baptized at an early age, regular in church and youth activities but still felt empty. However in her early 20s she realized that she had not admitted that she personally was a sinner and that Christ’s death was for her. At that moment, God opened my eyes and I realized why I had been feeling guilty as my own pastor was preaching. I know the facts about Christ, his birth, life and death but had never applied them personally to myself. I had never admitted I personally was a sinner destined to hell without the shed blood of Jesus and had not believed in the reason for his death on the cross. My sin.

-Testimony found in last Sunday’s church bulletin.

There’s more to the writer’s testimony but I decided to quote just the portion specific to this blog post and of course, I took out any information that might identify the parties involved. This is Day Zero, the last few hours of the last day. At midnight tonight, time runs out in my countdown.

Yesterday, I went to church. It was interesting.

I walked in the side door and immediately ran into Pastor Randy. He smiled and greeted me. In a very friendly way, he asked where I’d been the last couple of weeks (he wouldn’t be the only one). He also surprised me. The day I met him and we had our rather lengthy chat in his office, I had volunteered to do some work for the church that is within my skill set. He hadn’t brought it up again, but yesterday, he said he talked with the deacons and they’d like me to proceed. He’ll email me later this week to set up a meeting and tell me what he has in mind. I’ll keep the nature of the work to myself for now, but in the moment that Pastor brought it up, I knew I was committed to the church. Actually, I knew that before I walked in the door that morning.

I also saw Charlie, who teaches my Sunday school class. He said he’d been thinking about me and wondering where I was. I saw Dick and Virgil and a number of other people whose names I still can’t remember (I’m getting better at it, though). People were friendly, but the friendliness was a different quality. I can’t explain it in so many words, but I felt more welcome somehow. As my wife says, maybe what’s different was my attitude.

Church was still church. There was a brief DVD presentation made by missionaries in the Congo. They baptized 18 people in the first month they were there. They make bricks for their worship structure out of clay that has to be dried in the sun. After the first Sunday service, a storm blew the thatch roof off of the structure and they had a “church work day” to put it back up. Services are spoken in French and then translated into one of the indigenous languages. It’s a different world, and yet, we’re all human beings on a journey to encounter God in our lives.

Pastor spoke on Acts 8:9-25. I’d recently covered the same material in D. Thomas Lancaster’s Torah Club Vol. 6, Chronicles of the Apostles, and Pastor Randy’s treatment of Philip’s encounter with Simon in Samaria seemed very different from Torah Club. The immediate impression I got was that the church was trying a little too hard to apply a modern Christian sense of evangelism to people and events that are 2000 years distant. Ancient Judaism likely didn’t concern itself with how converting someone of Simon Magus’s statue would be a big accomplishment.

But he said something else that made more sense.

Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed…Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.

Acts 8:14, 17-21 (ESV)

simon-the-magicianWhen Simon first hears the Good News from Philip, it seems like he too comes to faith in the Jewish Messiah King and is willing to reconcile his life to the will of the God of Israel. In other words, it seems like he has converted to Christianity. But his subsequent response to seeing the giving of the Holy Spirit indicates that he completely misunderstands what he is observing and what his faith in God is supposed to really mean. Pastor Randy says there is a faith that doesn’t save. And he said more than that.

He ran off a litany of verses from the New Testament, all “convicting Christians of their sin.” Verses such as 2 Cor. 13:5, Gal. 5:19-21, Eph 5:5-6, 1 Jn 3:6-10. Here’s another one.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5-11 (ESV)

One of the objections I hear about “going to church” from believers who are not church-goers is that the church gives a whitewashed, “feel good” message, that doesn’t communicate the reality of the Bible, sin, and salvation. That may be true in other churches but it wasn’t in the one I attended last Sunday. It was anything but “whitewashed, feel-good.” The quote I opened this “meditation” with is part of that message. The message is that just because you believe, you may not have a terrifically realistic grip on the consequences of your belief. If you call yourself a Christian or a believer, but still can violate the Word of God with no feelings of guilt, anguish, or remorse, what you have may not even be what is called “faith.” Believing isn’t enough.

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!

James 2:19 (ESV)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

Think about the author of the text I quoted from at the top of this blog post. If he hadn’t experienced God’s message about his life, at the end of all things, he might have been one who the Master declared that “I never knew you…depart from me!” How horrible that a person might live that long and believe they are truly in the service of God through Jesus Christ only to be told to their face that they have been woefully mistaken about what faith means. Even performing great signs and wonders isn’t meaningful. Simon in Samaria was a magician who was called “great,” and yet his magic meant nothing to God.

hourglassIn the days of the Torah the great magician Balaam was commissioned by Balak, a King, to curse the Children of Israel. Balaam spoke with God and an angel of the Lord appeared to Balaam, but he was no servant of the God of Israel (see Torah Portion Balak). Yes, what you do matters (James 2:14-24), but behavior, purpose, and intent all go hand in hand. Everyone has times of doubt when we wonder if God will ever come near, including me, but there comes a time that we can’t simply wait on God to tell us what we need to know, we must pursue God with all of our strength, our will, and our resources. If He is our goal, then we have only one avenue to reach it; Jesus Christ and a true and saving faith in the promises of the Messiah.

There’s much more to do once faith is affirmed or reaffirmed, but sometimes you need to touch home plate to make sure your foundation is solid. It’s like I went to church and God asked me, “Do you know what you’re doing here?” “Do you know what you want?” “Are you sure you want this?” The answer is either “yes” or “no.”

My time is up. The clock is running to zero. Before the last hours, minutes, and seconds ticked down and the hourglass emptied, I said, “yes.”

74 Days: Contemplating Jumping

The Rebbe my father told someone at yechidus: Ever since G-d told our father Avraham, “Go from your land etc.” (Genesis 12:1) and it is then written “Avram kept travelling southward,” (Ibid 12:9) we have the beginning of the mystery of birurim. By decree of Divine Providence man goes about his travels to the place where the “sparks” that he must purify await their redemption.

Tzadikim, who have vision, see where their birurim await them and go there deliberately. As for ordinary folk, The Cause of all causes and the Prime Mover brings about various reasons and circumstances that bring these people to that place where lies their obligation to perform the avoda of birurim.

“Today’s Day”
Shabbat, Cheshvan 1, Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

There are people who do many good things, but with pessimism—because to them the world is an inherently bad place. Since their good deeds have no life to them, who knows how long they can keep it up?

We must know that this world is not a dark, sinister jungle, but a garden. And not just any garden, but G‑d’s own pleasure garden, full of beauty, wonderful fruits and fragrances, a place where G‑d desires to be with all His essence.

If the taste to us is bitter, it is only because we must first peel away the outer shell to find the fruit inside.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Garden”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I suppose Rabbi Freeman has hit the nail on the head as far as I’m concerned (though of course, he’s not even aware that I exist or of my circumstances). I tend to see the world as a rather negative place, as defined by the negative people who express themselves in it. You don’t have to go far to see what I mean. Watch any news channel on TV or the Internet and you’ll see tragedy, horror, despair, murder, and many other depressing and disheartening things. The debates and controversies surrounding the upcoming Presidential elections are just another reason to consider our world a negative place. It doesn’t matter which political party you belong to, the supporters of one person invariably use any trick and tactic they can find to sully the reputation their opponent’s supporters. The world of religion and religious blogging is no better, it seems.

According to the Rebbe, “Tzadikim, who have vision, see where their birurim await them and go there deliberately,” however, for the rest of us, “the Cause of all causes and the Prime Mover brings about various reasons and circumstances that bring these people to that place where lies their obligation to perform the avoda of birurim.” In other words, if you are a truly righteous person, you know where you must go and what you must do in order to accomplish the purpose of your life. For everyone else, God leads us to the places we must go and shows us what we must do, but it’s up to us to correctly interpret these events and then take the correct action.

Which is why, for most of us, life and God and our purpose can seem like we’re endlessly trying to solve a mystery by traveling down a dark street late at night hoping for illumination.

This week’s Torah Portion is Noah, which tells a narrative even most non-religious people know quite well. But according to Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski in his Growing Each Day commentary for Cheshvan 1, it tells me something more specific.

God said to Noah, “Enter … into the ark.”

Genesis 7:1

The Hebrew word for ark, teivah, has two meanings: it can mean “an ark,” and it can also mean “a word.” In the above verse, the latter meaning tells us that God instructed Noah to “enter into the word.” Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin expounded on this theme, explaining that when we pray, we should “enter into the words,” i.e. totally immerse ourselves into each word of prayer, as though the word is encompassing us.

A listener once asked him: “How can a big human being possibly enter into a little word?” Rabbi Moshe answered, “People who consider themselves bigger than the word are not the kind of person we are talking about.”

The Talmud states that people’s prayers are not accepted unless they efface themselves before God (Sotah 5a). God abhors those who are egotistical, and therefore the prayers of a vain person are not likely to be received favorably.

People preoccupied with their egos remain external to their prayers. The truly humble person feels small enough to “enter” even the tiniest word.

Today I shall…

try to throw myself entirely into my prayers by setting aside those thoughts and feelings that would inflate my ego.

While I don’t think of myself as someone who struggles with an inflated ego, it has already been pointed out to me (correctly, I might add) that I don’t trust God as I should. I don’t “enter into the word” with complete abandon, trusting that God will take care of my well-being. Terrible things happen to good people every day. Why would I be exempt?

That goes for trying to solve the mystery of my path of faith as well. If I make one decision, how will I manage the consequences? If I make no decision, that’s a decision and it has consequences. Even standing still is really moving backwards. If only all of the “egos” on the web who casually malign their brothers of the faith and the Jewish people (who are sometimes one in the same) never seem to throw themselves entirely into their prayers, setting aside those thoughts and feelings that would inflate their egos, at least as evidenced by their online behaviors.

Maybe it is better to ignore the world and to simply throw myself into a life of prayer, study, and contemplation.

There was a story about a Torah scholar who died young… – 13a-b

The Gemara elaborates and tells the story of a Torah scholar who died young. This man’s wife came to the Beis HaMidrash carrying his tefillin, and she began to complain about his shortened life. Although this student was very diligent, and no one was able to respond to this woman’s bemoaning, finally Eliyahu discovered and exposed the tragic flaw which this young man and his wife possessed.

It is noteworthy that this woman specifically brought her late husband’s tefillin with her, as if it indicated more of a reason why he did not deserve to die. Maharsha explains that she brought the tefillin to increase the anguish of the other students who would see her. Sefer Gilyonei HaShas of R’ Yaakov Engel explains that tefillin specifically represents the connection which we have to Torah study. Her argument was sharper, as she demonstrated that her husband learned Torah and was bound up with Torah as his life pursuit.

Therefore, this woman took her husband’s tefillin as she circulated around the shuls and the Batei Midrash to demonstrate that her husband did not simply learn Torah, but he was bound up with the Torah, just as the tefillin is tied around one’s arm.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“Bound in Torah”
Shabbos 13

But even reading this commentary convinces me that there is an insufficient perspective being applied here. It’s not what you study and learn but what you do with it that counts. I sometimes define the difference between Christianity and Judaism as the difference between what you believe and what you do, but that’s not always a very fair comparison. In some aspects of Jewish thought, the person who studies Torah, binding themselves in it so to speak, is of greater value than the simple person who cannot study but only tries to live a descent life as best they can.

A person can be a Jew just by being born of a Jewish mother and on that virtue, is a member of the covenant and one of God’s chosen people. A Christian can be born anybody and all by itself, that means practically nothing. A person is only a Christian after making a decision and a declaration. After coming to faith and confessing Christ, the only way to tell a Christian from a secular person is by what they do. Even then, many secular people behave more righteously than many Christians.

However, faith and belief are invisible. Only God knows what is in a person’s heart. It is what we do that defines us, sometimes because of what we believe and sometimes in spite of it. When God leads each of us, even me, into any given situation on any given day, there’s an expectation about what we’re supposed to do there. Should we turn left or right? Should we go forward or back? From God’s perspective, the answer is obvious. From a human’s point of view, it can seem like an impossible puzzle, or we might even miss the fact that a decision must be made at all.

Or, we know what we should do and are just loathe to do it. But if God has sent us to “reveal a spark,” so to speak, who are we to say we won’t do it or pretend we don’t understand what He is asking of us?

The answer is that we are human and flawed.

It would be easy just to ignore my dilemmas by ignoring God, but God or my conscience won’t let me do that. But it still feels like He’s asking me to jump off a cliff into a bottomless void with only the promise that He’ll make me fly to sustain me.