Freedom, Choice, and the Cost of Discipleship

Zhuangzi, the ancient Taoist sage, told this classic fable:

Once upon a time, a monkey keeper was in charge of feeding a herd of monkeys twice a day. He told the monkeys, “I will feed you three chestnuts in the morning and four in the evening.” All the monkeys got angry and protested noisily.

He responded, “Okay, Okey! I will feed you four nuts in the morning and three in the evening.” Then every monkey was happy with the new arrangement. (End of story.)

When I first heard this story, it sounded rediculous. I thought the monkeys were stupid, and the monkey keeper could easily manipulate them. It’s the same number of nuts a day. What difference does it make?

However, as I grew older, I realized that this classic story is classic for a reason. It’s a allegory of human nature. Many choices we make in life are just like the monkeys in the story. We often think we make the right choices, but from a higher perspective, we have made naïve decisions.

I believe our founding fathers saw this human problem and designed the republic we have. Every two or four years, we have an election. During this time, people argue like crazy and choose a leader between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The monkey keeper behind the scenes must be laughing at us.

During the COVID, some people thought the Pfizer vaccine was better, and others insisted on taking only Moderna. Still, many others refuse to get vaccinated. People from each group put down another for conspiracy.

I think regular coffee is better, but my breakfast buddy thinks decaffeinated is healthier. When you go to restaurants, the waiter comes with regular coffee in one hand and decaffeinated in another, asking, “Regular or decaf?” But, recently, I learned that most restaurants actually put decaf coffee in both pots to avoid liability because some people are sensitive to caffeine and could develop severe symptoms.

Nowadays, regular and decaffeinated coffees taste the same. You can’t tell the difference anyway. (No wonder I can’t keep myself awake after eating at a restaurant!) In this case, the restaurants are playing us just like the monkey keeper giving us the same thing in different pots to make us happy and keep themselves from liability.

Now, this story kept me humble because it’s a parable about human nature. I realized many choices I made turned out to be wrong in hindsight.

On the other hand, it also teaches us the wisdom of the monkey keeper, who didn’t insist on his way but graciously accommodated the monkeys even though he knew the monkeys made irrational choices.

Now, the question is, how do we make the right choice? Psychologists and social scientists have discovered that most choices we make are emotional, not logical. We justify our decisions only afterward with logic, as if we have made intelligent and informed choices.

This scientific discovery reveals that most of us are trapped in our emotions, often unconsciously. Only those with a higher level of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) can experience freedom from the emotional trap. Still, emotions are only one of the traps that keep us from making the right decisions.

In today’s scripture lesson, Jesus reveals five traps that keep us from making the right decisions. In fact, he said that if we can’t overcome these five traps, we cannot become his disciples. So, today, let’s explore the freedom from the five traps so that we can make wise choices.

[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]

The Scripture lesson today is from Luke 14:25-33. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. (Luke 14:25-33).

[This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!]

The passage begins by saying,

“Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them,” (Luke 14:25).

At one point in the Bible, there were over 5,000 people following Jesus. However, that number includes only men, so we can estimate that there could be over 10,000 people if they counted women and children. In this passage, Jesus wanted them to make sure they knew who they were following.

Even though this passage is known as the Cost of Discipleship, when we put it in context and study it carefully, it’s more about freedom than cost. It’s costly, only from the worldly perspective. But from a spiritual standpoint, it’s freedom. For example, Paul said,

I regard everything as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8b).

The word “rubbish” here is translated from a profane word, a four-letter word starting with “sh.” For a disciple of Jesus Christ, everything is rubbish. Since everything is rubbish, it’s not a cost but freedom to lose them. Who wants to cry over rubbish?

Jesus wanted to filter the crowds by ensuring they had the freedom from the rubbish to make the right choice in following him. Five traps keep us from making the right choices, and we must be free from them. The first one is,

1. Freedom from Emotion

We are emotional creatures. There’s nothing wrong with having emotions, but when it comes to making decisions, we cannot be emotional. Emotions are different from moods. Moods are internal, but emotion is social. For example, sometimes, we make decisions to please our parents or impress our friends. Such are emotional decisions. That’s why Jesus says,

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26).

The word “hate” in the Hebrew language does not always mean hostility, but it implies lower priority. It’s an expression with exaggeration. I’ve mentioned previously that the Hebrews customarily use exaggerations for humor and emphasis in teaching.

For example, God said, “Jacob I loved, but Esaw I hated.” How could the God of grace hate anyone? God does not hate Esaw, but it just means he loves Jacob more than Esaw because Jacob loved Him more than everyone else. Unlike Esaw, who exchanged his bright future for a bowl of soup, but Jacob did whatever it took to win God’s inheritance.

So, when Jesus says that we must hate our relatives and even life itself, it means we must love him more than we love others. We must be free from emotional attachment when we decide to follow him. Jesus himself practices what he teaches. He said,

“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50).

That means when it comes to making decisions, his emotional attachment to his family is secondary to the will of God.

2. Freedom from the Ego

Another trap that keeps us from making the right choices is our ego. Emotions are social, but ego is personal. We often make decisions based on our ego. Some people follow Christ thinking they will sit on the right and left of Jesus Christ in His kingdom. Some people follow Christ to fulfill a selfish desire. So Jesus wants us to make decisions free from the ego trap, and he says,

“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27).

What does carrying the cross mean? In another context, he said,

If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23).

Denying self means denying ego. A cross is a symbol of humility. To carry the cross is to tame the ego and pride. Some people join the church because it’s an honorable organization, so when they get arrested by the police, they could show them church membership to prove that they are good people.

Many years ago, a man joined our church, and later I found out that he wanted to use church membership as leverage to win the custody battle. As soon as he got custody, he disappeared. It’s an abuse of discipleship, the opposite of carrying the cross.

To carry your cross is to avoid abusing the eternal honor of discipleship for our temporal egoistic gain. Be free from the ego trap when deciding to follow Christ.

3. Freedom from Ignorance

After having freedom from emotions and ego, we become more objective in decision making, but there is another trap of miscalculation due to ignorance. Then Jesus gives an analogy about the third trap,

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14:28-30).

Ignorance is a major human problem. A lot of wrong decisions are made out of ignorance. Ignorance can even make us commit murder. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, he asked God to forgive them, saying,

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

That means they crucified him out of ignorance, not innocence. To avoid ignorance, we must be awake, alert, and vigilant. Jesus has repeatedly warned us to be awake, such as using the Parable of the Bridesmaids and Faithful Servants. One of my favorite verses is this,

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” (Luke 12:35).

Being dressed for action is easy, but getting the lamps lit means you need to have enough fuel to keep them lit, just like having enough resources to complete the tower. The oil is the Word of God. It’s wise to study the Bible, fill your oil reservoir, and keep your lamps lit.

4. Freedom from Shortsightedness

The trap of shortsightedness is similar to the trap of ignorance, but this one is more about not having the long view without realizing our decision may have eternal consequences. Jesus says,

Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. (Luke 14:31-32).

The consequence of the wrong decision by the king means his kingdom would cease to exist. The key phrase here is “still far away.” Some decisions must be made long before the crisis.

Some people try to dig a well only when they become thirsty. Some people follow Christ only when they are in trouble. They only pray to God when they are in a crisis without realizing that prayer need practice. Prayer is like a well that must be dug before you are thirsty.

Prayer is like an intimate conversation with God. If you pray only occasionally, you will feel like talking to a stranger. How do you know what to say to someone you haven’t spoken with for a long time and suddenly ask him for help? It’s wise to ally with the Higher Power before the crisis.

Jesus tells the Parable of the Richman and Lazarus about the consequence of shortsightedness. The richman made his decision after he died, but it was too late. So avoid the trap of shortsightedness.

How do you avoid short-sightedness? In this analogy, the king knows his own strength and the enemy’s strength. He has 10,000 soldiers, and his enemy has 20,000. That means he knows himself and his enemy very well. He has a good CIA department. As Sun Tzu said,

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” Sun Tzu

To have a good spiritual CIA department, we must again study the Bible. As Paul said, we are in spiritual warfare. The Bible has the secret for victory.

5. Freedom from Possessions

Finally, Jesus shows us the last trap but not the least. Freedom from possession doesn’t mean you don’t have any possessions at all, but that you are not possessed by your possessions. Just like freedom from emotional attachment with people, we also must avoid sentimental attachment with things. He says,

So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. (Luke 14:33).

Possessions are a serious trap. You might remember the story of the Rich Young Ruler who came to ask Jesus how to enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus said he must give up all his possessions to follow him, but he went away grieving because he had too many possessions to which he was deeply attached. Then Jesus says the famous line:

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mat 19:24).

Again, Jesus tells a Hebrew humor adorned with exaggeration to make it memorable of the fact that our possessions can possess us. It’s a strong trap.

There we have it, freedom from the five traps that keep us from making the right choices.

1. Freedom from Emotion

2. Freedom from Ego

3. Freedom from Ignorance

4. Freedom for Short-sightedness

5. Freedom from Possessions

These are the qualities of the disciples Jesus want. However, don’t be discouraged by the challenging requirements. He knows your weaknesses and helps you grow these qualities when you receive him as your Lord and Savior.

He says that we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free. He also says that he is the Truth. That means knowing him will set us free. Let us get to know him and let him prune and purify us into a fruitful vine.

That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound happiness.

Amen!

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