Over the past seven days I had one of those weeks that seemed to never end. I’ve been working on a project at my job that is the largest in scope of any we have ever done. All of the technicians in my group are working long hours and the end is not in sight. It has been a long drawn out ordeal of replacing systems in offices and there is little room for error. When I began the project this past spring I was warned by Analysts of other areas that my life was about to get busy. I have seen many projects over my thirty-five year career of doing this kind of work. Surely this one was no different. My boss even gave me the chance to put it off another year but I made the decision that our Division was ready. As I drove to the office we had scheduled on Wednesday I was so tired and I began to do some praying. Angie called me on my cell phone to check up on me. As I began to verbalize my frustrations the conversation turned to other things in life that never seem to be looked at carefully enough.
A few years back engineers and managers at my company made a decision to replace certain systems over a determined length of time and spend a certain amount of money and there was an evaluation made. Someone had to count the cost to see if it was worth it. Someone had to make a decision. The title today is from Jesus’ Words in Luke chapter fourteen.
We live in a world that very often does not correctly evaluate situations and their cost. That should surprise anyone who knows of the technology available. After all, aren’t we in the information age? We can gather data at the speed of light and process it on computers. When astronauts landed on the moon in 1969 it was the triumph of a decade long decision made by a president who never got to see it. The computer on board had less processing power than the computer in your automobile today. The achievement has been put on the shelf like Lindbergh crossing theAtlanticor Edmund Hillary climbingMount Everest. They are historical facts but we really don’t remember what was sacrificed to get there.
Unlike great men and women who made great sacrifices of the past that we all have gained from, today’s world seems to be a selfish one where everyone wants something for nothing. I’m sure by now your curiosity has peaked so let me give you the revelation of what God showed me this week. In Luke fourteen beginning with verse twenty-five there is an account of Jesus speaking to a group who had followed Him. They had seen His miracles and had heard His teachings. Jesus, sensing that some followed for the wrong reasons spoke to them. His first statement is hard for some to understand. He stated that if someone didn’t hate his Father, Mother, wife and family and even his own life he could not be His disciple. Now, we know that the Gospel never contradicts itself so we know Jesus isn’t saying that we should “hate” anyone. Jesus is saying that no one or thing in this life can ever be more important than He is. That is, if your love for family, things or even your own life is greater than your love for Him you will never make it.
In twenty-seven He said that we all must bear our cross to follow after Him. You and I may have a harder time understanding that than a first century follower. In Jesus’ day it was understood that taking up your cross meant having the choice of the death penalty and willingly going toward that. Criminals were made to carry their own cross in shame before the public. Everyone saw their act. The criminals were often not wicked people but just enemies of the Roman government. To stand against what we might term “society” and know that it meant sure death was the thought behind His words.
Next He speaks of a man who decides to build a tower and weighs out the cost of the project. In doing so he not only looks at the money involved but also the labor and time invested in the project. Projects always look good on paper. We can draw a house or some other project and spend time thinking about it. Our dream home can have the dollar amount calculated up by the local building supply. When we get the price tag we might consider it a bargain. Suppose we purchase the land to build and get the permits in place. We begin our dream project only to discover that there is a lot of stone here and we will need more money in excavation. We already have a time-frame in mind that we will be able to move in. Now there is a delay. After that obstacle comes another one. The foundation gets put down and the frame is up but there is a strike somewhere and the sheet-rock can’t be found. On and on it goes and we get more behind in our dream. Some give up while others press on until completion.
Years ago I saw a structure going up that had a crude sign in front. It had the name of a church and said “under construction”. The puzzling thing to me was that it was being built by one man. Board by board it went up. It was not full sized boards but pallet boards and scrap lumber. It was crooked and resembled a child’s playhouse. The frame never got finished and after a few rains it rotted down. At some point during this tragedy there was a sign that went up that was painted with spray paint. It said “the Lord’s work must go on”. All I could think of was this scripture. The cost was not counted and the project never was done. Jesus’ words came back to me-“All that behold it began to mock him” (v29).
While there are always hidden costs in a project some just never take the time to see. We aren’t criticized for unforeseen circumstances but for never even stopping to see. Lindbergh didn’t just get into an airplane and take off forParis. He spent a lot of money and time pursuing the trip. There were business partners who worked with him to build a special plane that was capable of flying the distance. His years of flying experience gave him confidence that he could handle the conditions on the way. There was no beacon to follow and his navigation was with a compass and dead-reckoning. When he first arrived overEurope it was nearIreland. He then headed south toFrance to victory. Lindbergh had a plan. The builder of the structure I witnessed may have had a blueprint for the building. He may have even had a dream to have a church. But he didn’t count the cost.
We have families that are failing today because people didn’t count the cost. A man and woman got married because of physical attraction. The two made a vow in front of a Pastor to love richer or poorer, for better or worse, in sickness or in health. I have performed a few marriages and I can always see the glow in their eyes. They can only hear the words richer, better and health. For the young couple there is no thought to a week that is day after day of the stomach virus. The woman can not imagine a man who gains two-hundred pounds. Neither of them can know what it must be like to get the house payment and not know how it’s going to be paid. Their vision is no further than the honeymoon.
Consequently, we are raising children who act the same. They begin college thinking that it will be fun living in a dorm room. They imagine having freedom from Mom and Dad and doing what they want and when they want it. For four years they take courses to get a degree in some field. Then, sometime before they graduate they realize they don’t want to be an engineer and really don’t know what they want to do. All the time and money is wasted and they are right back where they began.
Other children decide that they will rebel against the rules they’ve been under. Once they leave the secure environment they were nurtured in they don’t just slowly test the waters. It’s a full dive in to a rocky bottom. The cost is never counted in any of these situations. It’s as if we willingly chose to get in an airplane and put on a parachute and jump out-only to discover that it’s a backpack.
Jesus was speaking of following Him when He said to count the cost. How many times have we all witnessed someone who said that they wanted to be a Christian and then fell back into their old ways? They came under persecution, trials, tests and work and decided that it was not worth it. When the Pastor asked them to read a book or attend a new believer’s class they somehow couldn’t find the time. Church attendance started off steady and then was non-existent. Little by little their new found faith was dissolved.
This past week as I pondered counting the cost to my project I thought about Nehemiah. Nehemiah is one of my favorite people in the Bible. In the first chapter of the Book that bears his name is the story of how he got a vision to rebuild a wall. The Jews were taken into captivity by the Babylonians.Jerusalemhad been attacked and Nehemiah wondered about the condition of it. One of his brothers arrived and told him of the destruction. He was broken at the news.
In April of this year there was a line of tornadoes that swept through the southeastUnited States. The television news sources had live video of many of them. InAlabamaalone there were 235 lives lost. Homes were completely taken away along with everything people had in their yards. A few of the people I spoke to told of the horror of a two minute span beyond belief and then walking outside to see that their paradise had become a landfill. Trees from great distances were in their yards and everything they owned was gone. The shock of this was not enough to deter rebuilding though. While some may have given up and moved on most chose to begin again. They counted the cost and knew that they would do whatever it took to rebuild.
Nehemiah was just such a man. Perhaps you already know his story. He was the man that counted the cost and still chose. Read that again. He counted the cost of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalemand still chose to do it. Imagine where history would have turned if he had not done it. Nehemiah knew that the project would take immense funding and months of labor from people he had not yet convinced to lift a finger. He knew thatJerusalem was in this condition because of the sin ofIsrael. His first act was to confess that sin. He included himself (v6). Admitting your weakness is always important in counting the cost. Nehemiah could have passed the buck and blamed it on someone else. He could have reasoned that since he was not there during the fall it was his ancestors who were to blame. Even today there are those who want to blame those who came before them. Nehemiah didn’t do that. He accepted the failing with himself and his family.
The next thing he did was to call on God for mercy and help. In counting the cost we need to know that we can never pay it alone. Are you deciding to marry? You can not make it without God. Are you planting a garden? You can never grow a single vegetable without Him. Have you decided to buy a house? You will never pay it off without God. Whatever you do you need to ask Him as you count the cost.
Nehemiah then used his position to petition the king for help. In chapter two the king recognized that he was not in good spirits. Very often we try to hide our need from others instead of asking for help. Nehemiah could have lied to King Artaxerxes and covered his need. When someone asks you how things are going and you tell them they are fine are you covering the truth? Are things really bad? How often we hear of suicide and are surprised because we never knew there was a problem. Tell someone about your problems when you have them.
When King Artaxerxes gave his blessing on funding this project Nehemiah still had obstacles to overcome. When he arrived inJerusalemhe still had to convince the Israelites that the project was achievable. Once that was done and the materials arrived there was a plan. The plan was followed and the project was on the way.
Even after all of these expected challenges were overcome there was an unexpected element. Two enemies named Sanballat and Tobiah came and tried to stop their work. They gloated in the fact thatJerusalemwas destroyed and the wall torn down. They were upset at the thought of it being restored. It would have been a good time to give up and go home. Nehemiah was the inspiration to this city and his passion encouraged all who worked. You probably know the rest of the story. If you don’t you should read this book. I have done a lot of observation in my years and tried to discover why people fail. I have learned from my own failures so I am an expertJ! What about when people count the cost and decide that it’s too much? There are three reasons that people fail to achieve.
The first one is fear. When we allow fear in our lives in even one area it will grow to others and eventually destroy everything we love. Nehemiah had every reason to fear. He had reason to fear the non-Jewish king. He had reason to believe that the Jews would not back him up. And he had two enemies that tried to destroy his work. They spread lies about him and tried to cause disunity among the workers. Nehemiah had courage and overcame their mind-games. Note that there was never a physical attack by these but only a verbal. Satan goes about as a roaring lion. There is a reason the lion roars. It is to intimidate its enemy. With the fear in the prey the lion gains advantage and kills easily.
The second reason people fail is pride. Pride is the most overlooked sin in the church today. I say that without pause. Other sins are so easily seen but pride is not. There are many people who are failing because of their pride. They have told themselves that this or that could never happen to them because they are “Kings Kids”. As children of God they feel bullet-proof. Nothing harmful will be allowed to happen in their lives and they just know it. Then, when some tragedy happens they get mad at God and fall because of pride. They really believed they were immune to the common ailments of mankind. When their world crashes down around them so does their faith in God.
The third reason that people fail is laziness. When someone thinks they have counted the cost on something and they are just too lazy to carry it through they fail because of laziness. Nehemiah might have slacked up at some point and relaxed. He could have delegated the work to the families ofJerusalem. Since he was the one who managed the project he could have throttled back. After all isn’t momentum worth something? Don’t we all deserve a little loafing time? There are weeks upon end in a marriage when there is no rest. Children get sick, bills pile up and water pipes break. It all seems to happen at once. This is no time to get lazy. This is a time to work! Becoming lazy during a project assures that it will not be finished. We can never let our guard down until completion. Nehemiah didn’t. He continued without a vacation or break. The work was enormous but was completed in fifty-two days! That doesn’t sound lazy to me.
Listen to me Church-we must count the cost today. Every endeavor you and I attempt that is worthwhile takes effort. Jesus was talking about following Him. So many times we tell people that Salvation if free and given to us. We just “take it”. It’s that “taking it” that is the effort. Marriage looks so great to a young man and woman. They never realize the cost involved. Someone erroneously tells them that marriage is 50/50. That is a lie. Marriage is 100/100. If both parties do not give everything they have it will not last. Building a family takes effort. Some people assume that just because their parents raised them and they turned out alright it means they are qualified to raise children too. That is like me telling you that a doctor took my tonsils out and so I’m qualified to take yours out. Raising children requires love, prayer, study, patience, hope, faith, and determination. It is one of the hardest jobs you will ever do. It does not just happen. But it is worth every effort that it takes.
Perhaps the Holy Spirit has prompted you today about something you are failing at. Maybe you are like me and have failed in the past. You already know that you didn’t count the cost and you saw what happened. In your present challenge you need to count the cost and see the prize. Jesus saw the prize before him. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus saw the joy that was set before Him and endured the cross. If you really understand how glorious a relationship is with God you will be willing to crucify your flesh. If you really understand how beautiful marriage is you will do whatever it takes to be the husband or wife you need to be. If you really comprehend the impact of raising Godly children and how it echoes through centuries you will do whatever it takes to get them ready for life.
Count the cost…and see the joy!
Prayer-Father, all of us have failed at things we never expected to. We have all begun journeys that were longer than we thought. In our weakness we failed. I pray for those who read this today that are realizing they are in over their heads. They are at the point of failure. Give them strength and hope that they can endure to complete their task. Allow them to see the joy set before them so that they will press on. Put Your hand on their life as they humbly come to You and admit their weakness. Give them strength to finish the race.
In Jesus’ Name-Amen
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