Tuesday, March 04, 2008

the price is right

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?”

I’ve heard that verse used as a case for planning. Or strategic thinking. Yeah, right.

Sometimes Jesus said things that take my breath away. While Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris argue for the lack of evidence for God’s existence, Jesus lays his cards on the table and makes us gasp for truth. The demands that Jesus makes for followership seem so, well, demanding. They’re the kind of demands that only God or a crazy person would ask (think Waco…). And he said things that were so beautiful, comprehensive and irreligious that they don’t reflect the rants of the hardnosed “holiness separatist” preacher.

But this seems out of control. And by the way, don’t you think his disciples spent a lot of time doing damage control?—as in “Did Jesus really mean…?” Talk about thinning out the crowds. Jesus could say things that would make a church-growth consultant wet his pants.

Here’s that verse in context:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” Luke 14:25-34 (New International Version)

Whoa. I think only God can say stuff like that. Does any man deserve that kind of allegiance…especially a man that says the Shema is the greatest commandment of all (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart…” Deuteronomy 6:5)? He’s not that wacked out. It seems like a clear warning: if you start down this road and turn back, it’s pretty difficult to get authentically zealous again.

Fact is, there is always a cost to following Jesus. For several reasons. But a primary one is that expressing both the transformation of your own life and the Lordship of Jesus as savior and ruler of the New Kingdom that is “now and not yet”—which is really what the “e-word” is all about—will cost you dearly.

But the payoff is spectacular.

This weekend I mentioned a woman named Hazel Ryckman. She came to Zagun, Nigeria (where we drilled our first borehole) in the early 1920’s to bring the Good News of Jesus to the Rukuba tribe, both in word and deed, eventually starting a small clinic and school. But she would have been only about twenty-five years old. A twenty-five year old single girl. I can only imagine how remote that was. And it’s only a few years older than my daughter Rachel. No email. No cell phones. Practically incommunicado. What causes a young girl to risk that?

I was stunned when I tracked down two of her letters in a rare books store in Connecticut that happened to specialize in books from Sub-Saharan Africa. In her letter of February 2, 1925, she said: “…(May) God burden your hearts for the Rukubas, is my prayer. In every direction thousands are dying in their sins. Four Christians in a whole tribe of about thirty thousand…”. There is clearly discouragement if you read between the lines.

Maybe we’re one of the results of that prayer. Today there are over 200,000 in the tribe…and many have come to Christ. Many more as the water (and Water) of life comes to each village.

But it was extremely costly for Hazel. She ended up staying there for over forty years…and apparently never married.

Think about Mother Teresa’s recently revealed correspondence to her superior; there were many, many years of discouragement in sensing God’s presence. How could the overwhelming poverty of India not have a burdensome effect? Apparently it was a long dark night of the soul for her.

There is a cost to following Jesus…at every level. Paul writes depressingly at one point: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” 2 Corinthians 1:8 (New International Version). That sounds exceptionally disheartening.

There will always be a cost with the e-word.

But I wonder what Hazel’s reward is now? She died in 1985 in Florida. I would imagine that anyone who gives their whole life to the advancement of the Kingdom probably doesn’t really care that much what the reward is once they slip into the next “face-to-face-with God” dimension.

Maybe. But I don’t want to miss it.

Besides, I want to meet Hazel. She got this whole thing started…when she was just a sold-out twenty-something.

I’m sure the price is right.


  1. If you keep this up I am going to start calling you Arthur Dimmesdale instead of Dave Workman. What's next, flogging closets? The only cost to doing evangelism is wood, hay, and stubble--dross that you really don't need anyway. Evangelism done right is neither painful nor depressing. It is refreshing:

    Good news makes you feel better. Your happiness will show in your eyes. (Proverbs 15:30)

    Good news from a faraway place is like a cool drink when you are tired. (Proverbs 25:25)

    You have good news to tell. Go up on a high mountain. Shout out loud the good news. Shout it out and don't be afraid. Say to the towns "Here is your God." (Isaiah 40:9)

    The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs even in the sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:11)

    You are right, there is a cost, but He already paid it. Our only job is to redeem the purchase price He paid. I am saying this as a friend--please get your head back in the game and get off this maschostic kick you are on. Re-read that letter that Hazel wrote and consider this, she was bogged down in a "woe is me" mentality at times, but just look at what God has done in Nigeria! You are supposed to be the head hope peddler around here, so lighten up, Arthur.



  2. I remember doing evangelism back in the 80's from this baptist church in san diego. It seemed that was too confrontational for me. It seemed like abusing people in a way but in others it was getting the word out. The church actually had this evanglist that came from south america, that had this "how to be saved" pamplet that showed you how to lead a person to christ. It did work, I was amazed how much I fumbled about this in the past. I still have one of those pamplets, its funny the stuff you keep over the years. I had this confirming dream years later about it that I was warning people before they fell in the pit.

    But for all the baptist's faults on legalism, they do shine in missionaries going out into the world. You have to say that a 25 year old woman expressed her fears but stuck it out and had an impact that is still present in Nigeria.

    I think we all have fear that freezes us in this life, its amazing it did not freeze her, must be the power of God.

    I know I have felt it and that fear about telling people about Christ has worn off over the years, but I do have that fear come up, but its being replaced by joy when I do it.


  3. Ken,
    Sometimes I am energized and totally excited about what God allows me to do, but other times not so much.
    I was up until midnight last night with a friend who lost their job reassuring them that God does still love them and He has a plan. When I got up this morning at 5:30 AM and went to the job that God has blessed me with, I was tired, "Woe is me?"
    And next weekend I will spend Friday night and all day Saturday with a bunch of people going through divorces. Will happiness show in my eyes as I listen to stories about children crying for the parent who isn't coming back?
    I know from experience that I, like the others helping at the seminar for divorced people will be somewhat depressed the Sunday after. We do it anyway, and we should just dismiss each others feelings as the "dross we don't really need anyway?"
    Jesus was the perfect evangelist. When He sweat blood in the Garden of Eden had you been there you would have told Him to lighten up Mr. Doomsday?
    Had He done his evangelistic journey "right" it would have been neither painful nor depressing?
    Yes, I have had that refreshing energy and been blessed seeing people give their hearts to Jesus. But doing evangelism "right" sometimes involves getting down in the muck and mire of life and feeling what others feel in order to share God's love with them. Whether I feel like it or not at times.
    Then every now and then, when we have done the hard, sometimes not "refreshing" work that it sometimes takes to reach this world in our little way for Jesus, we get to "Share the good news and finally have that cool drink."
    Thanks Dave, for validating my feelings, letting me know that I am not alone when I get weary, that validation is what gives us all the energy to keep trying.
    Sometimes the cost of evangelism involves a cross...

  4. Slight correction in my post above, Jesus wasn't praying in The Garden of Eden I meant to say The Garden of Gethsemane.

  5. Dan,

    I was talking about picking apples, and you are describing peeling oranges. While both outreach and inreach are VERY important parts of our overall mission, they are not the same thing. No one would argue with you that cleaning the fish is much more difficult (and requires a whole different skill set) than catching them. With that said, let me clarify that I would never want to invalidate your effort. Rather, let me exhort you (and Dave) with a reminder from Matthew 11:30:

    "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."


  6. Ken,
    The divorced are outreach! And when we watch Jesus we see Him weap, cry out in agony and get tired, many times he went away because He was tired. And yes when I get tired I go away to be refeshed by Him.
    But to suggest that doing evangelism the "right" way is neither painful or depressing is rather immature.
    Sometimes it is fun and other times it is work. And Hazel will be rewarded for her tears and the "woe" she expressed, I'm not so sure we are reawrded for our "refreshing times."
    And quite frankly your quote from Matthew suggests you think I may be ignorant of the "rest" that we can all find in Christ? The fact the He offers us rest suggests that we should get tired now and again.
    If we were all a little more like Hazel...even with her woe is me attitude this world would be a much better place.

  7. Dan,

    A divorce recovery seminar or conference is a prime example of inreach. These are church growth terms. Outreach is defined as light touches, or nudges if you will, that move people further along in their realization of the gospel message on the Engle scale. They occur OUTSIDE of the church walls. Inreach is a specialized ministry designed to attract and serve a specific demographic or felt need with more intensive care in mind.
    It usually occurs INSIDE the church walls.

    It is is not immature to suggest that there is a right way or a wrong way to do evangelism. My advice comes from decades of experience and training.

    Insanity, on the other hand, is the act of continuing to do the same thing, the same way, with less than ideal results over and over, yet expecting a different outcome.

    Look at the model of Jesus again. For the three years that He walked the earth, where did most of His ministry occur? How lengthy were His encounters? What always coincided with any teaching He did?

    Inreach isn't a bad thing, it just isn't outreach. Inreach tends to be a care-based program that is intensive, outreach is a evangelistic program that is outward focussed and very mobile. It is not that they are exclusive of one another, they are just very different approaches to proclaiming the kingdom already established and claiming the kingdom that has yet to come.


  8. I think I can relate to the "doing it right" comment on evangelism. I have spent a season doing outreach to the poorest of poor on the streets of downtown Cincinnati. For some time, I was overwhelmed with the depth of the needs we encountered. Being strongly mercy-motivated, this would really weigh on me. I was carry burdens that weren't mine to carry. I had to learn, and am still very much learning, to really release these concerns to the Lord. Now there is a greater sense of joy and strength that rises up that is absolutely supernatural. Not an easy process and I still catch myself veering.... alot. So glad to be in His grip, Val

  9. Ken,

    We mail about 1500 flyers about our Divorce seminar to people outside the church. We draw Muslims, atheists, and people who have wandered from God. As a result many folks have been led to Christ and are replicating what they received in the D&B ministry. I consider this outreach. Presently that mail out is done electronically. In the early nineties we had to address the flyers by hand. Sometimes it would take up to ten hours to get all the flyers addressed and sorted. I didn’t get to feel refreshed until I saw the people who wouldn’t have known about us any other way except through that flyer they received in the mail. There was at least one suicide avoided by a man who came to Christ and countless others who weren’t quite as desperate as him but their lives were changed none the less. I think we did it right and it still costs us something.

    Secondly, please allow those of us who do what you call inreach the luxury of being tired and in need of having our cup filled. You told me to look at the ministry of Jesus and I have, for years. What I see is the perfect evangelist. First and foremost He did what His Father told Him to do. And in His case He traveled constantly. His ministry was where hurting people were. They came to Him (inreach), with half the crowd on a mission to kill Him. I don’t think He always felt refreshed after His encounters. Those (The receivers of the good news) that grasped what He was saying on the other hand did feel refreshed and the good news was like a cool, refreshing drink. And just like Jesus, sometimes the messengers of that good news are beat up a bit, like Hazel, even when they do it “right.”

    I agree that sometimes we don’t do evangelism “right” and we are suffering because we are doing something we are not called by God to do, it is then that we need to adjust.

    In reference to your last blog, you said “It is not immature to suggest that there is a right way or a wrong way to do evangelism. My advice comes from decades of experience and training.”

    I didn’t say that it was immature to suggest that there is a right way and a wrong way, I said “But to suggest that doing evangelism the "right" way is neither painful or depressing is rather immature.”
    I agree there is a right and wrong way.

    I apologize for suggesting your belief is immature. Maybe that is why you included the insanity quote in your last note. I can only conclude that I must have insulted you and I am sorry. Really.

    If you agree that Jesus did outreach I go back to my original point addressing your statement; “Evangelism done right is neither painful nor depressing. It is refreshing.” That simply isn’t always true. My point was that done correctly it can be exhilarating, but sometimes it isn’t.

    And back to your original post that caused me to write in the first place, saying Dave is on a masochistic kick lacks candor. In hindsight I don’t know why I felt the need to defend him to begin with, his original post and the message he gave that weekend
    better explain what I am trying to say anyway.

    I just disagree with you.

    Thanks for chatting.


  10. Dan,

    I am glad the Divorce Seminar went well. Come on--admit it--the guy choosing Christ over suicide was worth everything--I bet you are still jazzed! That is incredible. I don't know about you, but I would be willing to lick 1500 envelopes if I knew only one of them saved a guy's life. Cool stuff!

    I hope you aren't reading too much between the lines of what I posted. Offering you the church growth terms was not meant to be an insult. As stated before, inreach is not a bad thing--it is just a different thing.

    The "insanity" portion was not directed at you--it was a general statement about anyone approaching outreach the same way over and over again and then taking it personal when it does not seem to work. Years ago I used to do that--beat my head against the wall and not learn from my mistakes. I even went through a period where I sort of wore it as a funky badge that the burden was "holy" and that I was supposed to suffer for the gospel message.

    Then one day a mentor said something to me that was the exact kick in the head I needed. He simply said: "Why would the father ever hold anything back from you that you needed? He already killed his son on the cross for you. Everything else is just spare change!"

    It wasn't just a paradigm shift--it changed my life. I started to just live my life with one thing in mind: I am just spare change in God's pocket--He can spend me however He likes. While I might get a bit a physically tired, I have never gotten weary or felt bad. It has been an adventure. That was years ago. I don't want to go back to the old way, and if I can help folks avoid spinning their wheels in that muck I was once stuck in, I have to try.

    I am sorry if my words offended you--I just really get passionate when I see folks caught in that pit I was stuck in. I think silence is far more rude than frankness. Call me crazy, but I believe real spiritual warfare is more subtle than it is graphic. I am more frightened by Screwtape's Letters than Linda Blair's goofy voice and spinning head in the Exorcist, if you know what I mean. Again, I didn't mean to hurt you or anger you. I do hope I sharpened your faith a wee bit--you did mine.

    Take Care!


  11. Wow Ken...thank God everyone is not as arrogant, prideful and condescending as you. Keep up the good work...you're doing a great job.

  12. Well, I would thank you for the kind words in person, but you logged your comment as anonymous. I will keep up the good work, however. Thanks for exhortation!

  13. Written communication is so tricky sometimes- so easily misunderstood. I wonder how we'd see it if Ken's original comment to Dave was made with his hand around his shoulder and both men smiling? Just something to think about. Val

  14. Thank you, Val. That was very well stated. Friendly ribbing was the tone it was meant to be taken. Dave, and I go way back (decades) and we have read the same books. I guess I forgot not everyone reads the same stuff and they might not get some of the literary references and jokes. The original post was very much tongue and cheek--a little elbow with a "lighten up" tone. If you know, Dave, you understand that he HATES to talk about money and the fact that we are slipping behind in what our church community has pledged, but has not delivered on, is forcing him to do that regularly. If you look closely you can see the sadness on him. To explain further, Dimmesdale is a Hawtorne character that literally beat himself for the shortcomings of his flock. My post was to remind Dave not to take this personal--it isn't his fault that people are not doing what they said they would do. Going back over it I can see were I could be misunderstood. I should know better--sorry if I disturbed anyone. Thanks for your wisdom, Val!

  15. Glad to know Dave has you as an encourager, Ken. Also glad you cleared up who Dimmesdale is- I was wondering about that :-) We say no to flogging closets! Val

  16. from past experience it has been to not throw spears at people, they hurt, even in jest. I have done and regret it. You can not take back words, and email lasts forever on servers