Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Preaching the Cost

Over a year ago a classmate and I met some non-Christian kids from San Bernardino in a tutoring program through our medical school. Since that time we've been doing weekly Bible studies with them with the hope that God will use us to convey His gospel, "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." I've added a "Ministry" label where you can find all of the posts dealing with our ministry to these kids.

On Sunday we met again with the kids to whom one of my classmates and I are attempting to be faithful in preaching the gospel. This week my fellow worker in this ministry felt that we should talk about "counting the cost," from Jesus' admonition in Luke chapter 14. In this passage Jesus admonishes the crowds:
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
As we began to plan for our Bible study on Saturday night we realized that this is actually a difficult topic to teach on. The reason why it seemed difficult is because we are both determined not to fall into preaching some kind of moralism by which these kids might think they could please God or be justified. Unfortunately they could probably walk to any number of nearby mainline or "evangelical" churches and get that kind of moralism without the gospel. But we aspire to preach the gospel and as we've done our Bible studies we've talked a lot about sin and the wages of sin, death and hell. We've also talked about God's just wrath against sinners and how, out of His unfathomable love for sinners, Christ bore that wrath on the cross. But we had not talked specifically about repentance.

So I want to write about how we went about our talk. I don't assume that we did everything right but it is what we came to after looking at other parts of Scripture, and after much thought and prayer. Before we opened the Bible we just asked the kids the question, "Do you think a person's life looks the same both before and after they began following Christ?" We just told them to think about this and went on to have lunch. After lunch we played some games and I read the kids two short parables from Matthew chapter 13:44-46:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
After this we walked to a different location in the park we were in and got deeper into discussion we had planned. When we asked again whether or not the kids thought a person's life would change when they began following Christ they said "yes." We asked why and they weren't sure. I asked if they thought the change occurred because they needed to act better so they could get into heaven. I was very thankful that they said "no." We had just talked the Sunday before about the meaning of the word debt and how our debt had been canceled, studying Colossians 2:13-14, "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross." So we emphasized again that our debt - our deserving of hell because of sin - had been fully paid by Christ. Nothing could ever be added to the payment of this debt by anything we could do.

After this we talked about some examples of the changed lives of those who followed Christ. I reminded the kids of my own testimony which I had told them over a year ago when we first began meeting. We had been focusing on the stoning of Stephen and the conversion of Saul for much of the fall so we talked about how Saul had changed with his conversion, how he had gone from cheering on the martyrdom of Christians to sailing around the Roman Empire preaching the gospel and planting churches.

By this time the kids were starting to get antsy so we read the Scripture from Luke about counting the cost and tried to make sure they gained some understanding of what had just been read. Having just read, "any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple," we talked about what it meant to "renounce all." I pointed out that neither me nor my classmate, who are both followers of Christ, are destitute monks who go about begging for food. But what we did teach was that when someone becomes a disciple of Christ everything that the new disciple possesses belongs to God. All of a disciple's money, time and energy belong to God. And we taught that God is not going to leave all of those things the same as they were prior to conversion. We tried to stay away from specifics as the point of our teaching today was not so much to convict of sin but to say that there is a "cost" to becoming a disciple and that that cost is seen in the changed life of a believer.

Our last point was to bring the talk back to the parables we had read earlier. We told the kids that it was our hope that they would come to see that Christ is desirable above all else and we told them that only God could affect this change in their hearts. We told them that we desired for them to see Christ as the pearl of great price and the treasure in the field and that we were convinced of this truth. We made the point that while the life of a new disciple is a changed life and sometimes this repentance is painful, that the reason for this repentance is because Christ is known to be so much more desirable than anything we might leave behind. We made it clear that Christians are not perfect and that we both often struggle with trusting God with everything in our lives. We closed out our Bible study as always with prayer. It's always difficult to know how much, if any, effect our talk had on these kids but knowing that their salvation is in God's sovereign hands takes a burden off of us as we know that it's not up to us to save them. Lord willing, we will continue to meet these kids, seeking to be faithful preachers of the gospel. From time to time there may be more updates on this ministry.


Anonymous said...

Me again. Let me begin by saying, Matt, that I recognize how precious your time is. It is wonderful that you are making sacrifices to share your faith with others even while in the throws of med school. However, as The Preacher says, there is a time to every purpose under the heavens. If your ministry is a healthy mental distraction for you from the stress of clinicals (and distraction is necessary), then by all means continue at a pace that is correct for you.
However, remember that The Almighty knows not only our actions but also our desires. If you burnout from compassion fatigue now, the world will lose all that you have and desire to offer in your life if you sustain yourself and allow every thing its season. You will know what is right for you. God bless you, Matt

Scarlet Pimpernel

Matt Perkins said...

Hey S.P.,
Thanks for your concern. I think, as you suggested, this ministry is actually more of a "mental distraction" that helps to invigorate me for the rest of med school than something that adds to my stress. With that said sometimes after one of these Bible studies I am pretty drained of energy. But I think the chance we have in the lives of kids who aren't hearing the gospel anywhere else is not one to be taken lightly. I've always loved being in ministry to youth and I thank God that He's brought these kids into my life here. God bless you also S.P.!

Anonymous said...

Hello Matt!
Be encouraged in the Lord Jesus.
What a privilege and opportunity you have been given to be with these young people and lighten their lives with the light from heaven.
I love the parables you used for them to consider. They continue to be like a voice from heaven to be heard in this noisy confused world.
Have you ever heard the thoughts about these parables that switch the characters, and the one who is looking and finding the treasures is Jesus? He then goes and sells everything that he possessed and bought the field and pearl. We have been bought with a price and it was everything that he had to give, his very life blood. Not a disagreement here, I believe your interpretations are true and historically agree with the theologians I trust, but this is just something to think on.
God bless you young man,

Matt Perkins said...

Thanks Ron!