Is there not a cost?
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. - Acts 20:24The last day before the Whole City Whole World conference draws me to one of my heroes in the entire bible: Paul and some of my favourite verses from Paul. Yes, one of the verses that ever spoke to me from the mouth of Paul is 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, which talked about Paul being tortured and the kind of shit that Paul had to go through for God. But Paul is my role model in the bible - he was an intellectual man of God and never shyed away from a reasonable defense of his faith in Christ; he was a faithful and committed man in Christ who had risked it all; he had a cause. These are amongst some of the reasons why I have viewed him as a role model to follow in my walk with God. The most important of them all, is that he risked it all for God; he was willing to pay the cost for following Jesus, even when he was an apostle born abnormally. These two verses I looked at today had forced me to ask myself this question, is there not a cost in pursuing God's cause in this city and in this world?
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. - 2 Corinthians 11:23-28
Is there not a cost?
What are we willing to pay to follow Jesus?
In Luke 14:33, Jesus told the people that if you do not give up everything, you cannot be His disciple. There is certainly a cost involved, but do we count the cost or do we pay lip services to altar calls when we are challenged to respond to God as a disciple? Also think about Mary, when she was told that she was going to give birth to the Lord. When she obeyed, you know what she gave up? What cost her in her obedience is her status as a virgin in her society, in an era when pregnancy is a sign of promiscuity and it made her an outlier.
Is there not a cost?
I remembered when I first got to know Christ, something that made me hesitated to go for water baptism, other than the family factor, was the knowledge that I will be asked this question: by the grace of God, will I be willing to die for Him? It sounds better nowadays, but in those days, I really gave it serious thought because the pursuant of God's cause does not come without a cost and I am not into SM. I thought through it carefully because I wanted to make sure that I wasn't hypocritical when I answered 'yes' before I got dunked into the water. You know, the most incredible thing about Paul is that he really made do his words, that he considered his life nothing except to complete the race set before him. His cause? To testify the good news of God's grace. His cost? Flogged, stoned, beaten, shipwreck, lack of sleep, hunger, etc. And the question I first asked myself when I responded to all the calls for mission and when I answered 'yes' in the water is this: who is Jesus to me that I will be willing to lay down my life for Him? What is this good news that I am willing to die for?
In providing my own answer for this one most important question, I would like to quote from two persons in what they have said about Jesus (which incidentally, I have posted in this blog sometimes back):
"Jesus Christ continually contradicts us and the way we experience ourselves as alive and he compels us to radically redefine what we mean by life. He encounters us the way he encounters the disciples on Easter Sunday on the road to Emmaus. They the ones marked out for death, those who have survived him were really the dead. He the dead one was really the living." - Ravi Zacharias
“We look back on history and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of ‘the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.’I wanted to move back to the person of Jesus because it is in Him that all the things we do and believe in are being defined. May I say that Jesus' message to this world is a contradiction to what the world is teaching us today? We meet Jesus at the mount, and He says, 'pray for those who persecute you'. We speak to Him at the synagogue and He teaches us to 'forgive our enemies seventy times seven'. We commit to Him by the lake of Galilee and He claimed that fathers will betray their sons because of Him. His message is a message of contradicting the world, but yet also a message of hope, of grace. His message is one that makes sense of what we know and what we have gone through, without which all things become meaningless. Thinkers, philosophers, dictators have come and tried to introduce contrary theories but they can't get rid of Jesus! They have tried to replace his message with their own philosophies. People like Voltaire claimed that the bible will become a thing of the past and today, one of his house belongs to the French Bible Society. Why? Because His message of grace is the eternal message that we need as a fallen mankind. Outside of His message, outside of the person of Jesus Christ, there is no other theory which offers such hope and grace to mankind.
In one lifetime I have seen my own fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that, ‘God who’s made the mighty would make them mightier yet.’ I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian proclaim to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last a thousand years; an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar to begin his own assumption of power. I’ve heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as wiser than Solomon, more enlightened than Ashoka, more humane than Marcus Aurelius. I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that Americans, had they so wished, could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.
All in one little lifetime. All gone with the wind. England part of a tiny island off the coast of Europe, threatened with dismemberment and even bankruptcy. Hitler and Mussolini dead, remembered only in infamy. Stalin a forbidden name in the regime he helped found and dominate for some three decades. America haunted by fears of running out of those precious fluids that keep her motorways roaring, and the smog settling, with troubled memories of a disastrous campaign in Vietnam, and the victories of the Don Quixotes of the media as they charged the windmills of Watergate.
All in one lifetime, all gone. Gone with the wind.
Behind the debris of these self-styled, sullen supermen and imperial diplomats, there stands the gigantic figure of one person, because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom alone mankind might still have hope. The person of Jesus Christ.” - Malcolm Muggeridge
It is in the person of Jesus Christ, that we gain victory over sins, that we became more than conquerors. (Day 1)
It is in the person of Jesus Christ, that the Holy Spirit is being made available to us. (Day 2)
It is in the person of Jesus Christ, that we have an eternal cause to live for. (Day 3)
It is in the person of Jesus Christ, that our past hurts can be healed and our broken relationships can be mended. (Day 4)
It is in the person of Jesus Christ, that all our thoughts, all our feelings, all our experiences can be made sense of and unified in one consummate expression of worship. It is in the person of Jesus Christ that we can make sense of life. That is why when I look into the Word, it is not isolated in one piece, but everything is interconnected. It is through Christ that these different streams of seemingly different thoughts can be tied together. No other religious philosophies and theories have been able to offer such completeness in my life.
It is in the person of Jesus Christ, that I find my cause to live and die for. It is in the person of Jesus Christ that I find the cost too low to pay for a cause like that, the cause of testifying His good news, the good news of His grace in this world. Paul went through that, we are told in the bible that we will go through that. It is in the person of Jesus Christ, that I realised that my earthly life is more than just living seven scores years and die. I am made and created for a greater purpose. I am marked out to run the race ahead of me. My task is to complete the race. My food is to do the will of Him who sent me. My priority is to seek first His Kingdom. As the song goes, "what can I do?" What can I do but to follow Him to the ends of the earth? My question therefore is what is it in Jesus Christ that you have found? What is the cost you are willing to pay in pursuant of His will?
At this point, I would like to end this chaotic coalescence of thoughts and close off five days of reflection on whole city and whole world by citing the example of David Livingstone, which I think is so apt here to resurface again, whose life so exemplified Acts 20:24:
David Livingstone was born in Blantyre, Scotland in 1813. He was born into a home where his father used to put him on his knees and read to him stories of great missionary exploits, particularly that of Karl Gützlaff, the Dutch missionary who doubled up as a medical missionary too. Young David used to look into his father’s eyes and say, “You know, daddy, one day I’ll be a man like that. I want to be a missionary. I want to be a doctor. I want to serve God.”And David Livingstone's story has prompted me to pray this prayer:
David Livingstone got to his knees one day and said this prayer, “Lord, Send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me. Sever any ties, but the ties that bind me to your service and to your heart,” and the words of God came to him “Lo, I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.”
He packed his bags and went off to Africa. And when he took one glimpse of Africa from a distance, he penned in his journal these words: “The haunting specter of the smoke of a thousand villages in the morning sun has burned within my heart.”
He married a woman of the famous Moffat Family – Mary was her name. Her father was a great missionary. They went to Africa. But David Livingstone’s life was that of an explorer and he would move from place to place and his only goal was Jesus in the hearts and lives of men and women – thousands of them.
Finally his wife and his young family couldn’t keep up with him anymore. Some of his children were dying out of sickness and disease so he said to his wife, “Mary, why don’t you them home, and I will see you shortly and spend some time with you. It’s too dangerous for us to go on.”
So he sent his dear wife Mary back home and letters would take months to exchange, but some of the fondest letters of love and romance were sent between David and Mary and you know when he saw her the next time? Not five weeks. Not five months. Five years.
Five years later when he set eyes upon his wife, she could not recognize him because at one stage in his jungle travels going to preach he walked into a branch of a tree that had completely blinded him in one eye and marred the other. His face had been burned under the African sun to a crisp of leather and his skin, which had not been pigmented for it, had been roasted to the point that his body could not take it any longer. His face marred and scarred and his eye blinded and at one time he had been attacked by a lion that had torn one of his shoulders apart. He miraculously escaped.
Now she saw her husband hobbling in with a marred face and a disfigured physical countenance. Hours before he arrived, they had buried his father. David wept because he had longed to tell his dad firsthand of the stories his father had only told him thirdhand.
Biographical sketches tell us that when David Livingstone walked into any university in the British Isles, students and faculty would rise to a standing ovation because they knew they were standing in the presence of a giant of a man.
Finally he went back to his wife one day and he said, “Mary, the haunting specter of the smoke of a thousand villages in the morning sun is still burning within my heart. We need to go back.” She decided that he should go – she had to be with the children. She said, “When they are all old enough I will join you again, David.” And he set off on his lonely journey to preach to the African people who was so much within his heart.
Finally after a long time, Mary joined him and the day she set foot on African soil, she contracted a disease they had so dreaded she would contract. The very day she set foot on Africa, she got that disease and a few days later, he was burying her.
Lowered into the soil of the African earth there, an eyewitness said David Livingstone knelt beside the grave, weeping his heart out, and they overheard him praying, “My Jesus, my king, my life, my all, I again consecrate my life to thee. I shall place no value on anything I possess or in anything I may do except in relation to thy kingdom and to thy service.”
Through it all came the words of God to my heart, he said, “Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”
He picked up his belongings and walked back to his hometown village of Ujiji. When he arrived and went into his little home there, he found that someone had played a cruel joke on him and had stolen his medication that he so needed because his body was racked with pain, untold pain. He walked in constant agony. And they said in one of the very few points in his life, he prayed for himself, he got on his knees and said, “God, you promised you would always be with me! I need that medication if I am to continue preaching the gospel!”
As he prayed, he heard steps, and as the story goes, he saw a pair of feet planted in front of him and his countenance lifted for the first time in a long while – he was looking into the face of a white man who didn’t live in Africa. He said, “Who are you, sir?” And the man replied, “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” (Those famous words) He said, “Yes, sir.”
“Mr. Livingstone, I’m a press reporter, I’ve been consigned to do a story on your life. I want you to know two things about me. Number one, I’m the biggest swaggering atheist on the face of the earth. Please don’t try to convert me. Number two, somebody sent some medication for you.”
David said, “Give me the medication please.”
So Mr. Henry M. Stanley started to travel with David Livingstone. Four months later, the biggest swaggering atheist on the face of the earth knelt down on African soil and gave his life to Jesus Christ.
One of the best biographies you’ll ever read on David Livingstone – two volumes entitled “Livingstone of Africa” by Henry M. Stanley. Stanley said, “The power of that Christ life was awesome and I had to buckle in. I could not hold out any longer.”
Finally his body began to shrivel with high temperatures and pain (they used to carry him around from village to village on a stretcher). One day, preaching from a stretcher, literally trembling, he finally looked at two of his national brothers and said, “Please take me back home. I am very very ill. I’m very tired, I need some sleep.” They brought him back to his home and were about to spill him on to the bed when he said, “No, please help me on to my knees.”
Livingstone buckled down to his knees by the side of his bed and clasped his hands and started to pray. His prayers were so profound, his sanctuary was so unique that his African brothers felt it was blasphemy to stay in his single union/communion with God and they stepped out of his little room.
Then somebody came running and said, “I need to see Mr. Livingstone for a moment.” They said, “Sshh! Quiet, please. He’s praying.” Five minutes went by, they looked in. He was still on his knees. Several minutes went back, they looked in. He was still on his knees. After a protracted period of time went by, they looked in. He was still on his knees.
One of them felt that the man was too tired to continue to pray. He needed to get some sleep. He walked over to him and one of them shook him by the shoulders and inquired, “Wana? Wana?”
Livingstone fell over. He was dead.
He died exactly the way he had lived – in the presence of his Lord.
He didn’t run from His voice. He didn’t wave a lamp that had no light in it. He didn’t sell a soul for some earthly pleasure. But the haunting spectre of the smoke of a thousand villages had burned itself within his heart so that he could say, “My Jesus, my king, my life, my all, I again consecrate my self to thee.”
Send me anywhere, only go with me
Lay any burden on me, only sustain me
Sever any ties but the one that binds me to Thy heart and to Thy services.
Is there not a cost in His cause? There is, our Christian life is definitely not a bed of roses. And I pray that when the time comes, we will count the cost and consider the price of following Jesus.