The Call: My New Year's Sermon

“When Jesus Christ calls a man, he calls him to come and die…”

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mt 16:24)

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate…his own life…he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple…So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14:26-27, 33)

Which Call?

Due to a chance encounter, Kenny and I were invited to hear a prominent Christian speaker and write. The entire content of the night was rife with what's know as the Prosperity Doctrine: “Health & Wealth." At one point, the speaker even said “God wants to give you the biggest house on your block… no, He wants to give you ALL the houses on your block, so people will say ‘Woah! I want that, I’ll have what she’s having!’ and then they’ll come to Jesus!’ At the end of His sermon, promising heaven on earth, the speaker gave the call to follow Christ and take hold of this 'abundant life' Christ promised…

Is that the case…Is it true?

Is that what Jesus died for?

  • Your best life now?
  • So YOU could have all your dreams and riches and blessing?
  • Is that the testimony of the early church?
  • Is that the testimony of the millions of Disciples throughout the ages and across the globe that have experienced persecution in the name of Jesus and overwhelming hunger and devastating loss and things that are too excruciating to think about… (things we block from our mind and believe would never happen to us…)

Can He do those things? Yes of course but is this what he called us too?

That “Call” we saw that night at the Big Show was a little different from the one we hear in Jesus’ ministry… from his call!

Apparently Jesus didn’t know what worked…

He never promised houses or riches or health…


He’s always thinning the crowd…

It’s almost like he’s a glutton for punishment!

People Gather around to see miracles…

They gather around to hear teaching…

They gather around to eat the free food that multiplies in his hands!

Then He says, “Come and Die”… and they walk away

Then He says “I am the manna from heaven… if you eat my flesh you will have eternal life…” And they run away… only a few stay behind.

He even says at one point (Mk 10:39) that his followers will drink from the cup of suffering He would be drinking from and that they would be baptized with the same death be is baptized with…

Jesus’ Call: “Come and Die… and find true life in forsaking everything…”

Our Culture’s Call: “Come and Get… and find Health, Wealth… whatever your heart lusts for!”

Did Christ call you to the path of your wildest dreams coming true?

Did Christ call you to the path of health and wealth and romance?

These are the things we dream of, right?

If he wanted to attract a lot of people, you would have thought THIS is what he would have offered, right?

But instead he say’s these words: “If you want to follow me, deny yourself… take up your cross (today: ‘Climb into your electric chair’), and follow me…whosoever does not hate his own life cannot be my disciple.”

I think one of the reasons this sounds so foreign to us is because it goes against our cultural norms (individualism, consumerism, materialism…)

In fact, I think when most of us come to Christ in this culture, it is BECAUSE OF Radical Self-Interest…

We don’t come to die, we come to live!

Some of us come to God to get hope for our Eternal Destination

We look at eternity: Heaven/Hell… which one sounds better. It's the ultimate cost-benefit analysis. “I choose Heaven… clouds and harps sound better than fires and pitchforks…”

Some of us want a better life now… Maybe it’s the false health and wealth gospel ORmaybe you are looking for Freedom from the brokenness we’ve experienced when we couldn’t help ourselves… addictions, sorrows, things that had been done against us… and we believe Christian Morality will help us achieve freedom from those things…

Some of us want to Make a Difference in the world, and this is the perfect vehicle to accomplish our activist plans…

Some of us just grew up in it and don’t know any different… we settle into a version of Christianity that fits us because we know there is some truth there, so we find a church that reflects our values and settle in until something messes with us (offended at a person or teaching or they stop doing my favorite light show during the morning concert…), then we hop around until we find another church that fits our consumer hearts

The church has said for a long time, “Come get saved for your reasons, then join a church that fits your personality and desires (music-style, teaching-style, things that fit YOU…), and then try to participate in mission as you can… That’s the key to the Christian life: you’ll be feeding some homeless people, behaving better, and know you’re going to heaven when you die”

The problem is we end up leading unfulfilling lives!

Meaningless Existence… (That has all the guilt & apathy of sin, with none of its adventure and fun!)

Mission becomes some dry activity squeezed into our free time…

Discipleship becomes a list of Meetings we attend and adding more Activities into our already saturated lives…

Freedom becomes a ball of guilt-ridden feelings we walk around under because we can’t break our sinful habits and we can’t seem to find the balance we seek, and we can’t do enough to make a dent in world poverty…

So… after a while, we find ourselves wanting to plop down Indian-style in the middle of the floor and give up, because our Fuel is Gone & we are Burnt Out and This Call is not all it was cracked up to be…

Is it possible that Jesus wants to free you today from that self-serving, unfulfilling, religious cycle!

Is it possible that Jesus wants to Break the chains of your the guilt, and consumerstic lie you’ve bought into today!

Could it be that He wants to Set Loose the Pharisees and Sadducees and Zealots from their self-fulfilling dreams… the idols they have put their hope in… idols they are serving in the name of God

Many of us come to Christ to gain our lives…

Jesus calls us to lose our lives…to die.


I know some of you are saying in your hearts right now:

But what is so bad about our desires?

Didn’t God create us to have desires and needs?

Health, wealth, status and romance are not the enemies, are they?

What’s wrong with enjoying life and living it to the fullest?

What’s wrong with dreaming big dreams about our future?

I’ll tell you…Nothing!

Nothing is wrong with living life to the fullest!

In fact, that is what Jesus came to bring.

“…I have come that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly!” (John 10:10)

The difference is that Jesus came to bring us life on God’s terms.

We keep trying to find life on our terms…

Jesus came to call us to die to our lives as we know them, and find true life in the way of God

(We keep trying to live our lives the way we like them, and die out to the ways of God…

…or simply incorporate as many as the ways of God that we are comfortable with, and we try to ignore or explain away the areas of God’s truth that make us uncomfortable or challenge our worldviews)

History of Desire

In the beginning, before sin and brokenness and self-centeredness entered the world, our life was in a garden. We had the perfect life and nothing was wrong… all our desires were pure and God was at the center…

  • Who did we look to for everything?
  • Who was at the center?

We had perfect Health… eternal life (we still long for this, that’s why shows about immortals like the highlanders and twilights and vampires…etc. are so popular and appeal to us at such a basic level…)

We had Wealth… in fact all of our needs were met right there in the garden (Thirsty, drink from this river of life… hungry, eat from this tree of life… lonely, here are animals. Name them. Still lonely, here is another human).

We had Status… We were the Only people alive, the top of the food-chain… the children of God who walked and talked with the Creator of the universe in such a close relationship that we took it for granted!

We had Romance… Pure, loving relationship… not self-seeking… never losing that sense of adventure, because the entire world was there for us to explore…Naked and unashamed! (unashamed of that stretchmark or those extra 8 lbs from the holidays…)

We had paradise...

BUT – When Adam sinned he fell out of the life of heaven and of God and into the world of self…

All of the sudden, Self-pleasing, Self-sufficiency and Self-exaltation became the laws of his life.

Self began to reign in his life…

The things we long for… eternal life, acceptance, our needs being met, love… They wereours and God was at the center of our world holding all those things in check… in their proper place

The problem with sin is that it moves God out of the center and puts us into the center, and all those Gifts from God, become gods to us… there is nothing to hold life in the Divine Orbit it was created to exist in…Why? Because you and I are not capable of that…we don’t have the strength… the pull… we aren’t God…

  • It's like a Solar System. Gravitation holds everything in it's proper place. The Sun (Latin: Solar) is at the center holding all the planets in orbit… what would happen if the earth said, “You know what… I want to be at the center of this system! Sun get out of the way, it’s my turn” Could the earth do that? Would Saturn maintain its course? Would Jupiter’s chemical composition remain the same? Would the earth benefit from this at all? NO – Chaos – Things flying of course – Crashing into one another – freezing and melting and dying - Death
  • That’s a picture of what happens when we wrap our worlds around self and push God out of the center
  • God was meant to be the One you find fulfillment in, and His gifts are simply radiant reflections of his love… but then we turn our back on Him and worship those reflections

It’s not that our desires are for bad things, but with ‘SELF’ at the center, those desires are distorted and are elevated and their true beauty is lost…

Have you ever dreamed about getting something, and then when you got it, you lost interest within a few days… the newness wears off… it gets old and your already looking for something to replace it

Look at the tabloids, full of the stories of the richest, most successful people in the world… and they are miserable, lonely, hopping from one bed to another, shaving their heads and doing blow, and wardrobe malfunctions to get more publicity… WHY???

Because Self is like a big black hole in the center of your being… the more you get the more you want and nothing satisfies…

You elevate your desire for those things (that were meant to be blessings) higher than they can what they are able to deliver! And the reality of the joy and beauty that these things were meant to bring into our lives gets crushed under the weight of our expectations!

  • They fly off course…
  • The harmony of our universe is violently destroyed as planets crash and our core grows cold, and the Sun is painfully distant!
  • The relationship isn’t good enough anymore!
  • I deserve a raise!
  • There is always a nicer Car and a newer iPhone
  • There is always a nicer House and Newer TV (Smell-a-vision!)
  • We have it better than 90% of the world and we are among the most unhappy and unsettled!
  • The black hole just gets bigger…
  • We keep searching, and we are never satisfied!

There is not room for both you and the Sun at the center…

That is what happened when Adam sinned…

He fell out of the life of heaven and of God and into the world of self…


Jesus Christ came to restore man to his original place.

Jesus shows us a new way…

He does the opposite of Adam…

“He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8)

What He has done himself, he asks all who desire to follow him:

“If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself”

That’s why Jesus calls us to die…

And YES, there IS a NEW Life that Jesus comes bringing, but you can’t experience it until you die to yourself and begin to live a NEW Life centered on the cross and empowered by the Holy Spirit…

  • It’s Life AFTER Death (Death followed by resurrection into a new life…)
  • It’s the pattern of the cross…
  • It’s moving your ‘self’ back into orbit around the Son, and letting God rearrange the ‘solar system’ of your life…
  • It’s submitting to God’s Process of putting everything back into its proper place…
  • It a process!
  • It’s the most healing thing for your life…

-YET- What do we do? (*even after we come to Him and “give our lives to Him?”)

  • We do not trust Him to do it…
  • We don’t want to die, we want to live…
  • We think we know best…

Our hearts silently say:

“God I know you want to put Wealth and Success into the proper perspective for me, BUT I need them right now because we have had a few tough breaks, so I NEED to concentrate on Money right now until we get our financial picture straightened out… and I definitely can’t afford to support your church right now …”

Jesus responds: “Take up your cross, follow me”

“God I am nearing that age, and I am running out of time and options… I NEED That special someone… I deserve it…

Jesus responds: “Deny yourself, and follow me”

“God I want to get around to reading your Word and praying more, but YOU only put 24 hours in a day and there are so many things I have to do in the day… Social causes… Kids… House Cleaning… I never have time for me!… It’s your fault… if you would have put 30 hours in a day I would have time for You!”

Jesus responds: “Whoever does not hate his own life cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple…”

But… my family


But… my education


But… my life


“That’s nuts!?!?! That’s ridiculous! Jesus wouldn’t say that… Not to this situation… not to THIS part of my life… not to me…”

REALLY??? Are you sure He wouldn’t?

3 Calls

There is this, slightly humorous story in the gospel… (actually, it would be more humorous if it wasn’t true…)

In it, Jesus offers three people the opportunity to be his disciples.

Now while walking along the road to Jerusalem, a man came to Jesus and said, “I want to follow you wherever you go.” Jesus looked at the man, and knowing his heart said, “Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but I don’t even have a place to sleep at night.”

Later, while on that same road, Jesus approached another man. And he said to him, “Follow me.” The man replied to Jesus saying, “But let me first go home and bury my Father.”

But Jesus said to the man, “Let the spiritually dead bury the dead. Your duty is to the living—go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”

And while on the same road, there was a third man. He was like the first that approached, and said to Jesus, “I want to follow you…” then he added, “but first let me go home and say goodbye to my family and friends that are there.”

Jesus said to this man, “Anyone who has put his hand to the plow and then looks backward is not fit to be a part of the Kingdom of God. Once you have started in this life there is no looking back! You can't put God's kingdom off until tomorrow. If you do there is no place in the Kingdom of God for you.”

Bam!! Ouch!! How are you feeling? What thoughts are going across your mind? Could you follow this radical thinking? Could you reorient your life for THE CALL?” Why or why not?

Application A

Question: Are you sure Jesus would not ask you to leave everything behind and follow Him?

These are some of the primary hindrances to true discipleship, illustrated by the 3 men who were not willing to go all the way with Jesus as their Lord.

They wanted to follow, but they had conditions

Mr. Too Quick—the love of earthly comforts.

Mr. Too Slow—the precedence of a role, job or occupation.

Mr. Too Easy—the priority of family and friendships.

Question: If Jesus came walking down the Streets of San Diego right now, and THIS was your chance to be one of his disciples and He called you by name… “______ Come follow me!”

  • What would be your “condition”…your “but”?
  • What would take priority?
  • What would you have a tough time leaving behind?
  • Would you actually want to follow?
  • Are you answering the call to be a disciple?

It’s a tough question, but you need to be honest today…

Are you ready for this?

This is serious…

Are you ready to answer the call to be a disciple?

There is NO In Between… you can’t “Kinda” Follow Him

Christ demands ALL…

His love and sacrifice freely poured out for YOU demand ALL…

He is ready to lead you… are you ready to follow?

If not, you should go Home.

Because this isn’t a joke…

It’s not a “time-card” thing on Sundays, or a label you wear, or a card you carry in your wallet, or any of the cheap platitudes our culture places on it…

Our culture of Church-ianity is full of “Christians” who are not following “The Call”

Continual Choice

I know as you hear this today, and you take inventory of your heart, you realize there are conditions…

If we are honest, we ALL have our conditions!

But when Jesus Christ calls us, the Call is in itself a choice…

Who is at the center of my life? Me or God?

Who is going to CONTINUE being at the center of my life?

Who do I trust to provide for my happiness?

Am I going to continue to seek my life, or am I going to go the way of discipleship… the way of the cross… the way of death and resurrection…

It’s your choice!

And it’s a choice we continue to make even after we have chosen to follow, because new things approach us and enter our lives and threaten to lure us away from true call to death followed by life…

…New jobs and relationships and situations

And most of the time what we experience as a let down in this life is NOT God letting us down, but our own double-minded hearts straddling the fence, trying to have our cake and eat it too, and becoming MISERABLE in the process, because we are trying to lead a double life!

The choice to follow is one we must make daily!

To live a single life before the face of God!

To live for God alone!

“The secret to true discipleship is to bear the cross, to acknowledge the death sentence that has been passed on self, and to deny any right that self has rule over us. Death to self-such is to be the Disciple’s watchword. The surrender to Christ is to be so entire, the surrender to live for those around us so complete, that self is neverallowed to come down from the cross to which it has been nailed, but is always kept in the place of death.” - Andrew Murray

…Self is never allowed to come down from the cross to which it has been nailed…

Paul says another place (Rom. 12:1) “I implore you therefore, to present your bodies as Living Sacrifices… holy and pure and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual act of worship”

Living Sacrifices…

“The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep trying to crawl off the altar”

Can you relate to that? Wanting to follow Christ in this way but when push comes to shove, the idols in your heart take hold?

One of the greatest disciplines in the life of a disciple (discipline-disciple) is learning to die daily to yourself in order to discover the New Life God has for you… It’s a resurrection life, made possible by the Holy Spirit…

“If the same Spirit with raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He will quicken your mortal bodies…” (Rom 8:11)]]

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out that this call “costs a man his life… but gives it also gives him the only true life.”

Like the man who found the treasure hidden in the field… It cost him everything he had, but he gained SO much more in return.

Following Christ demands change.

It requires us giving up our sin-stained, tattered clothing for his royal robes.

It asks us to give up those things we hold dear so that we may be changed, day-by-day, more into the image of Jesus Christ.

If you want to follow Christ you must want to change.

You must want to give up control.

The Good news of the Gospel, that Jesus Christ is King, is only good news if you are ready to let Him be your king!

The Rich Young Ruler

There is another Story of a similar call that has bothered and challenged me over this past month on my Sabbatical, another call Jesus issues to a potential follower…

“Then Jesus looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have… and come, take up the cross, and follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

When Christ spoke these words to the “Rich Young Ruler,” he went away grieved. Jesus said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” (v.23)

The disciples were astonished at his words!

Then Christ repeats those words again and the disciples are ‘astonished beyond measure!’

“‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible’.”(vv.26-27)

Maybe you stand immune to the potency of this passage…

Maybe it doesn’t shock you like it did the disciples…

Maybe you respond to it like I have most of my life…

I didn’t identify with the riches part because… I’ve never been rich!

But what things are in your heart? (maybe not money)…

What are your riches?



Application B

I had to take inventory of my life a few weeks back…

I realized that this rich young ruler was a mirror image of my heart.

In fact, I think the rich young ruler thought he was doing Jesus a favor…

Look at all he could contribute to the cause!Look at all he brought to the table for this wandering rabbi and his group of rag-tag, misfit followers…

But in the kingdom, where God is at the center, old assets become liabilities.

Jesus doesn’t need the things you bring to the table… he just wants you!

He wants You, emptied out of everything…

Like Paul says in Phillippians… “Those things that were gain to me I counted loss for Christ…”

We all imagine we bring something to the table!

We all come to Christ with a resume’

  • Successes
  • Expertise
  • Riches
  • Worldly Wisdom
  • My Family
  • My Sacrifices
  • My Reading
  • My Years of Ministry
  • My Heritage

My Story

This is where I found myself… I was:

  • Living a hollowed-out shell of a spiritual life.
  • Burnt out on my own religious duty…
  • The walk I had with God that was once a Living spring of water has all but been shut down…
  • A trickle of water was coming out and I was trying to survive on drops a day…
  • As one of my closest friends describes it, “Trying to lead people to a God you are not even walking towards anymore…”

What’s worse I didn’t realize anything was off!

It all happens so subtly!

Before, at a time when that well-spring of our relationship was on full-force, God had called me to do some things in my life…

  1. Raise a Family for His glory
  2. Plant Anchor Gaslamp and make disciples of Christ in Downtown SD
  3. Begin AWARE as a means of redeeming culture, by showing a new way to do business not bent on greed and self…

But as I read this account of the rich young ruler, I realized that all these amazing things in my life that at one time were monuments to God had become monuments to my self-worth…

They had become my riches!

They had become my identity!

I lived for them!

  • When I woke up in the morning, that’s what was on my mind…
  • When I laid my head on my pillow at night, they consumed me
  • Every moment was spent on them
  • I didn’t want to take Sabbaths with God because I was too busy with them
  • They were where I spent all of my time, energy and money!

I had slowly and unknowingly put myself in the center of the universe, and kicked God out of His proper place… now everything was flying out of orbit and I was miserable…

When I read this story about the rich young ruler, and heard the call to leave everything, I began to weep!

God was speaking to me… to leave everything.

  • “Leave Anchor Behind”
  • “Walk away from AWARE”
  • “ Leave your Family and follow me”
  • “Sell all the riches that consume your heart and follow Me!”

At the same time that I heard this call, I understood what God was telling me…

Leave everything behind - Not in a literal way… but in my heart…

To once again vacate the throne and Ask God to be my Lord and Savior

That is why I had to take a sabbatical… I had to reconnect and reestablish my life around God…

I had to answer the call… again

Application C

Maybe you identify with my story, and maybe you don’t…

But we ALL Have Those Things…

Our Riches…

The things that are in our heart…

Take a second and think about your life…

(*maybe even your last few days)

Where do you spend your time?

Where do you spend you money?

What occupies your thoughts?

Is it Jesus?

Is it the Kingdom?

Is it death to the old ways, and life in Christ?

Anything that is in your heart… that gives you your identity… you must leave it behind as you make the choice to follow…

  • Not only do we NOT bring those as merit badges into our new life, but we must GIVE UP those things… at least in our hearts
  • Become a nothing... A Zero
  • Stand naked at the foot of the cross, clothed with His righteousness ALONE… taking on His finished work as your ONLY Goodness… your ONLY Merit… Your ONLY Identity… your only sense of worth and value the only thing you bring to the table IS Christ!


In this story of the Rich young ruler…

Christ had spoken about bearing the cross as the ONE CONDITION of true discipleship.

“Take up your cross and follow me”

That’s the human side… the side of the cross… the first part of the saying…“Take up your cross”





But if we are not careful, we only focus on the negative…

We’ll focus our attention on the Burden of the cross and we’ll miss the Blessing of the cross!

“Take up your cross”

-But Jesus doesn’t stop there…

“…AND Follow me”

There is a Fellowship of the cross!

Here with the rich young ruler, He revealed from the God’s perspective what is needed to give you and I the will and the power to sacrifice ALL in order to enter the kingdom.

He said to Peter, when he confessed him as Christ, the Son of God, that “Flesh and Blood” (Mt.16:17) had not revealed this to him, but His Father in heaven. This was to remind Peter and the other disciples that it was only by divine teaching that He could make the confession.

In the same way, here with the rich young ruler, He unveiled the great mystery that it is ONLY by divine power that a man can take up his cross, can lose his life, can deny himself, and can hate the life to which he is by nature so attached!

Multitudes have sought to follow Christ and obey his commands and have found that they have utterly failed.

The cross is popular as a piece of jewelry, but not as a lifestyle

Multitudes have felt that Christ’s claims were beyond their reach and have sought to be disciples without any attempt at the whole-hearted devotion and the entire self-denial that Jesus asks for.

We must believe that it is ONLY by putting our trust in the living God and the mighty power in which he is willing to work in the heart, that we can attempt to be disciples who forsake all and follow the Call Christ in the fellowship of His cross…

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out that this call “costs a man his life… but gives it also gives him the only true life.”

I want to challenge you today…

Listen to the call of Christ and obey…

Put your trust in Him

Get your self out of the way and let Him be the center…

Lose yourself to yourself and follow Christ

Leave everything else behind

Everything else where you found your

  • significance
  • hope
  • identity
  • sense of life…

“If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mt 16:24)

The Gospel

The Bad News is that YOU CAN NOT FOLLOW THIS CALL... It's Impossible!

This call of Christ, to follow the way of the cross, will Crush you.

You do not have enough will-power to will yourself to die out to sin

- to deny yourself

- to serve and not seek your own

- to forgive and not seek justice

- to sacrifice

- to place God back into the center and move yourself out back into orbit around the sun...

It's impossible...

But what is impossible for you and I, Jesus Christ did for us...

He denied himself and took up his cross daily...

...serving and sacrifing, forgiving and loving, and perfectly fulfilling every aspect of the law of God

He denied Himself, as he knealt in a garden and prayed "if it's possible, let this cup pass from me... nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done."

Then he literally took up a cross, and followed God's path to die...

And He became our failures and shame and brokenness, and they were nailed to the cross with him.

He died in our place, taking our judgment and sin upon himself!

So now, as we choose to believe in Christ and our hearts, drawn by the Holy Spirit, once again make God the center of our lives, God does the impossible work inside of our hearts that we could not do…

He died a death, that was followed by a resurrection...

He conquered sin and death once and for all!

And as you place your faith in Him, you become part of that new creation...

So we are baptised with him, into His death, and as we come out of the water we are resurrected into a new life!

So we are filled with the Holy Spirit, which breathes daily resurrection power into our lives...

And because of the Gospel and great grace of our God, we have hope today... In the finished work of Christ that transforms us and motivates our hearts to follow The Call...

“When Jesus Christ calls a man, he calls him to come and die…”

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer