The Cost of Discipleship

I continued our series, “The Kingdom Life,” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church by looking at two challenging teachings of Jesus on the cost of discipleship. As with the rest of this series, we are exploring key teachings of Jesus in light of the resurrection.  This third message in the series, “The Cost of Discipleship,” faces both the cost of not following Jesus from Luke 13:22-30 and the cost of following Jesus from Luke 14:25-35.  It was also an African Global Gateway weekend at Eastbrook, which gave us the chance to sing, dance, and reflect some of the unique cultures that are a part of our church within our worship service.

You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

Also, you are welcome to join in with the daily reading plan for this series.


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Three Last Words: a Good Friday message

This year our Good Friday service was structured around the three last words that Jesus speaks from the Cross in the Gospel of Luke:

  • “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
  • “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23:43)
  • “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

Within that structure, I brought three short messages reflecting on those final words. I am including the full text of my messages below.

First of all, we enter into the words of Jesus as His words and prayers from the Cross. In this way, our journey with the Cross takes us deeper into His life and the meaning of the Cross.

Second of all, we enter into the Jesus’ words from the Cross to shape our own life with God, and specifically our life of prayer. In this second way, our journey with the Cross changes us, leading us to become more like Jesus’s life. 

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Forgive them. Who is it that Jesus is talking about? Think through the list of characters:Read More »

Dirt: Beginning the Journey to the Cross

Here is the text of my message from our service last night at Eastbrook Church, beginning our Crossroads journey through Lent. I hope it is an encouragement to you as we begin the journey with Jesus to the Cross.

In the book of Genesis, we are told that God “formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). Human beings were created by God from the dust of the earth. This is of course why one phrase from an old funeral prayer says: “Ashes to ashes – dust to dust”

The story of Genesis continues with the turn of human beings from God in disobedience, the entrance of sin into the world and human experience. The curse of sin touches upon the life and existence of men and women, and the Bible says that even “the ground is cursed because of” sin (3:9).

Jesus steps into the cursed dirt of humanity. He does this by taking on flesh and bone in the incarnation.

But He also steps into the dirt by inhabiting our sinful context. The same beautiful world that is also the weary world in which we live – Jesus steps into it. He experiences the goodness and the evil, the kindness and the injustice, the gentleness and the violence. Jesus steps inside that dirty context.

Even more, Jesus runs face to face into the full power of the dirt of sin. In the New Testament book of Hebrews we read: “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

In this conflicted place, Jesus named evil, sin, and wrong. He confronted it and defeated it. One of the most vivid pictures of that in the Bible is Jesus’ journey into the wilderness for 40 days of temptation. He waits, seeks God, fasts, and encounters the powers of evil. He steps into the dirt.

Lent is a journey like that into the dirt of the cosmos; into the dust of humanity. During Lent, we journey with Jesus through the messy spaces of human experience to the Cross.

  • We watch Jesus name sickness and bring healing
  • We watch Jesus name oppression and bring freedom
  • We watch Jesus name injustice and bring the favorable year of the Lord
  • We watch Jesus name offense against God and bring forgiveness
  • We watch Jesus journey to the Cross

Lent is a journey with Jesus into the dirt. With Lent, Jesus reminds us that something needs to die in order for something to live.

We see that truth as Jesus spends time with His disciples. Hel tells them the real life comes when we turn from ourselves and turn to God. There’s a word for that – an unpopular word – but an important one: repentance.

Jesus describes the discipleship journey as a fundamental turning from ourselves to God in this way: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23)

In our lives, there are things that need to be named as dirt:

  • Sin – our offenses against God – need to be named as dirt
  • Brokenness – our twisted inner lives and the twisting we do to others – needs to be named as dirt
  • Evil – the ways in which we speak or act wrong – needs to be named as dirt

Those things need to die so that something can live in us. We need to get rid of the dirt in our lives. And Lent is a great time to do that. To join in with Jesus in naming things as dirt, getting rid of them, putting them to death, so that God’s life can spring up in our lives.

But it’s not only true that something needs to die in order for something to live…actually, someone needs to die in order for someone to live.

When Jesus ministry turns from Galilee toward Jerusalem, three times He tells His disciples that suffering and death are coming next:

  1. Luke 9:21-22 – “21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22 And he said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’”
  2. Luke 9:43-44 – “While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples,44 ‘Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.’”
  3. Luke 18:31-34 – “31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33 they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

Every time, we are told that “the disciples did not understand” what Jesus was talking about. It was too overwhelming for them to truly consider that the Messiah – the promised One of God – would suffer and die.

Even if they understood that He had come to enter into the dirt of human experience, the leap from incarnation to crucifixion was almost too big to understand. Someone had to die in order for someone – “someones” – to live.

Jesus was the Messiah, but a Messiah who would suffer. The cross is the centerpoint of the life and ministry of Jesus. He would suffer. He would die. He would become like dust and dirt, so that the things humanity called ‘life’ could be shown for the dust and dirt they were. He would enter into death, and bring life up from the soil of death. At the Cross, Jesus would open wide the pathway to life through the dirt and dust of human sin, evil, and death. Someone has to die for someone to live.

The cross is the centerpoint of the life and ministry of Jesus, and it is the centerpoint of our own lives. At the Cross, Jesus takes our dusty, dirty selves into His hands and transforms us. He sets us free from the power of evil, bringing us out of the realm of darkness and into the realm of God’s glorious light. At the Cross, Jesus liberates us from the power of death, triumphing over it in the resurrection so that He is now alive and we have hope of eternal life in Him. At the Cross, Jesus opens the channel of forgiveness and grace, restoring our broken relationship through reconciliation with the Father.

Something has to die for something to live.

Tonight we will respond to the journey of Jesus with two actions intended to express our recognition of the gift of Christ.

Dirt – The first of these is that we will take a cup of dirt and pour it into the staged areas. This is a sign of us naming our sin, evil, and brokenness as the dirt that it is. This is a sign of us repenting. This is a sign of us getting rid of our dirt in order for Christ’s life to spring up in us. It is a symbolic way that we take up your cross. Jesus said:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

Communion – After doing that we will participate in communion. [read 1 Cor 11] Communion is our remembrance and encounter with Jesus’ journey to the crossroads. We reflect with sobriety and celebrate with gratitude the gift given in Jesus. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Let God speak death to things in our lives that are not life-giving so that the resurrection power might take root in our lives in new ways. It’s about refining and purging for life to grow, all in conformity to Christ and not just our own efforts.

Jesus’ death was the way to life and our own death to self with Jesus is a pathway to life.

Someone has died that we might live. Let us draw near to celebrate.


The First Day

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. (Luke 24:1)

the first day:
walking with heavy loads and burdened hearts
to the place His breathless body lay.
every hour seemed so still
since that dark day.

but now, the first day:
their hesitating procession to the tomb
finds the place, but not Him;
and aching emptiness
meets anger’s anxiety.

yet, on the first day
two men send shivers of loud light
mingled with a message:
‘He’s alive like a new day’s dawning!’
and they remember His words.

this first day is the third day
that sends the dark day running.

[This is the fifth in a group of original poems composed for Holy Week, which begins with “Unseeing in Sleep.” Read the next poem, “Unbelievable Words,” here.]

Joseph’s Offering

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus….With Pilate’s permission he came and took the body away. (John 19:38)

as the crowd dispersed
i came to honor Him.
perhaps it was too late…
but the cost was real for me,
as others from the Sanhedrin
turned their dark looks upon me.
our entourage gathered His limp form
with painful effort from the tree
and wrapped it with care.

standing there, at the Executioner’s workplace,
i couldn’t help but think that
He deserved more than this;
that my present actions were a feeble attempt
to cover my earlier inaction.

Jesus, wrapped in linen and death’s shadow,
seemed like a gift Jerusalem
was not worthy to hold.
so we took Him to the tomb,
with the women following close,
and placed Him gently within
for safe-keeping until the day of the Lord.
but my heart ached within me.

[This is the fourth in a group of original poems composed for Holy Week, which begins with “Unseeing in Sleep.” Read the next poem, “The First Day,” here.]