MONDAY, 1/16
Read Matthew 8:18-19.
The heading in most Bibles captures the theme of this passage well: “The Cost of Following Jesus.”  
I’m curious what your reaction is to that statement.  One thought that passed through my mind was that that is not a great strategy for trying to get people to bite on something.  Capitalism depends on a business’ ability to sell people to buy into their products.  That’s why slogans often lead with the benefits.  They tell us what we will get if we purchase their product.  
Jesus, however, takes a different approach with His disciples.  While the world tells us what we will get if we buy in, Jesus tells us what it will cost us if we buy in to Him.    
Discipleship to Jesus is costly.  While it’s true you stand to gain so much in the way of eternal life, peace, hope, and security, Jesus is clear that the price is your life.  You must let go of your way and your will to take up a new life with Him.  We must put our dreams and our hopes into His hands.  We give Him our allegiance.  This is the choice we must make when choosing whether to follow Jesus or not.  
In our passage today, we meet a teacher of the law who professes to follow Jesus.  “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go,” he said.  This is a genuine and admirable claim.  It is the kind of commitment Jesus expects of all who follow Him.   
But before we move on, I want you to consider what this teacher pledges.  “I will follow You wherever You go,” he said.  Think about what that means–that wherever Jesus goes or whatever work He takes up, this man promises to be there alongside Jesus.  I wonder if you can say the same today.  
For many of us reading this, we have committed ourselves to Jesus at some point in our lives.  We said our own version of this pledge.  I wonder where your commitment lies today.  Are you ready to go where Jesus calls or do what He asks you?  Oftentimes, we hear this and immediately imagine being called to go to Africa as a missionary.  I have no idea what He has in mind for you.  Going might not entail packing up your belongings but rather going to your workplace or home with renewed purpose.  Whatever it means for you, are you prepared to say, “Jesus, I will follow You wherever You go”?     
Praying Together:
“Lord, I know the joys that lay in store for everyone who comes to You.  I also know that taking up a new life with You means leaving my old life lived for my own glory behind.  I pray that You help me give myself completely to You.  I can do this because I trust You.  Where and what You call me to will lead to the greatest blessing–for You, for others and for myself.  I love You and give myself and all that I am to You.  Amen.”
Read Matthew 8:20.
The teacher of the law makes a promise to Jesus that wherever He goes, the teacher will follow Him.  It’s easy for us to imagine two embracing in fellowship and walking off into the sunset as the curtains close.  That, however, is not how the story goes.  
Jesus replies, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”  You might be wondering, what is Jesus doing here?  Jesus is asking the teacher of the law if he has counted the cost of following.  Does the teacher understand what he is committing to?  It’s a fair question.
Teachers of the law were well respected in their communities.  They were often privy to privileges that many people did not enjoy.  They were often showered with finer things and invited to the places of honor at parties.  Jesus wanted the man to understand that following Him will not afford this teacher such luxuries.  There is a cost for the teacher to follow Jesus.  Has he counted that cost, and is he willing to pay up? 
The choice to follow Jesus entails sacrifice.  It means leaving pleasures behind in order to experience and participate with God’s Son as He ministers to a broken world.  It means foregoing the choice meal so you can watch Jesus feed thousands with morsels of food.  
Was the teacher really willing to trade worldly pleasures for a life of adventure in following Jesus?  What about you? 
We have the same opportunity today to follow Jesus like the teacher of the law.  While Jesus may not be walking around on Earth as He was then, He is still present and moving in the world today.  He is ministering to people and healing brokenness.  He still calls His followers to join Him in the work He is doing.  The question is this: are we willing to set aside our resources of time, talent, and financial treasure to serve with Him?  
Sending Prayer:
“Jesus, You are still calling us to follow You.  Help me count the cost of what that means.  I want to give myself to You and Your work.  I am open to Your will.  If there is something I need to separate from in order to make room to participate in Your ongoing ministry, show me what that is, and give me the courage to be faithful.  Amen.”  
Read Matthew 8:21.
Here we find another example of a disciple wrestling with the commitment of discipleship.  This disciple says to Jesus, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  
Let’s take a look at what is going on here.  First, his response is framed as a reply to Jesus’ call to follow Him.  Even though we don’t hear Jesus explicitly ask for people to follow Him, the disciple is replying to Jesus.  Another point is that this is not one of the twelve disciples.  Jesus had other disciples who followed Him around.  It is just that the twelve disciples were given greater access to Him.  Other disciples followed Jesus when he came to Jerusalem or when He was in or around Galilee.
This man’s request of Jesus is interesting.  He asks to go bury his father before he follows Jesus.  There are a couple things that could be going on here.  It could be that his father just passed away.  It could be that he was coming up to the year mark of his father’s burial and was looking to collect his bones from the tomb to be placed in a box in an ossuary.  It could also mean that he was waiting to fulfill his responsibility of caring for his aged father until his passing.  There are all valid possibilities.  We cannot know for sure the disciple’s circumstances.
So, what can we take away from this disciple’s statement to Jesus?  One lesson is that we all have something that stands in the way of our commitment to follow Jesus.  It isn’t difficult for us to find an excuse to postpone getting involved in Jesus’ work.  At this point in time, Jesus’ time on Earth was drawing to a close.  His focus was shifting toward Jerusalem where He would face the cross.  There was no time to wait.  If the disciple truly wanted to actually walk alongside Jesus, it was now or never.  
It’s important for us to consider what this means for us.  Sometimes we put off the call to follow Jesus into what He is asking us to do.  We always imagine a season when it will be more convenient for us.  Our lives are so packed with activity that we often don’t have much available time.  We figure we’ll get to it sometime later.  The truth of the matter here is that the time to follow Jesus is now.  Don’t delay.  Don’t let something remain in the way.  Evaluate the things in your life, and let go of the lesser things in order to take up the greater thing, which is serving the Lord.  The time is now.  
Sending Prayer:
“Son of the Living God, I confess that it is easy at times to postpone obedience.  It is easy to put off Your call, to delay commitment to You for a better season that never comes.  Help me hear Your call now.  I choose to follow You now.  There is no greater thing I can do than offer my life, my days, to You.  Show me what it looks like to infuse my daily life with Your purposes.  Amen.”
Read Matthew 8:22.
Chalk this one up to one of Jesus’ hard sayings.  People often picture Jesus as this kind, never-say-anything-hard guy.  That is simply not accurate.  While Jesus was full of grace, He was also full of truth, and as the saying goes, sometimes the truth hurts.  Jesus was willing to challenge us when the need arose.  Here we have one of those instances.  
This is an interesting response to the disciple’s plea to help bury his father.  In Israel, caring for one’s parents was an essential duty captured in the Ten Commandments.  It’s difficult to imagine Jesus asking this man to not provide care for his father.  Like we stated yesterday, we cannot know the precise circumstances surrounding this disciple’s life.  
The takeaway for us here is that Jesus is challenging this disciple’s commitment to Him.  Jesus makes no apologies about it.  Discipleship means that your allegiance is to Him first.  
Since we’re already looking at a hard teaching of Jesus, let’s look at another one in Luke 14:26.  Jesus said to the crowds following Him, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be My disciple.”  Yikes.  
What does Jesus mean by this?  Does He really want us to despise our families?  Let’s look at it.  First, Jesus is using hyperbole to get your attention.  Mission accomplished!  Second, when we look at the breadth of Jesus’ teachings, we know that Jesus commands us to love.  We are told not to hate even our enemies, let alone the families He has entrusted to us.  So, what then is He saying?  Jesus is showing us how seriously we should be committed to Him.  While we love all, no one should supersede Jesus. 
When I was in college, I heard a pastor share his testimony.  He grew up in a household that did not believe in God.  His dad was vehemently opposed to faith.  When he became a Christian, his dad threatened to disown him, calling him a fool.  The dad often provoked arguments with his son to dissuade him from following Jesus.  The now-pastor began praying for his dad, and after a year of praying, his dad became a Christian.  I can imagine there was a temptation at some point along the way to give his allegiance to his dad over Jesus.  However, while he loved his dad, he loved Jesus more.  His love for Jesus fueled his love for his father, even when his father acted unlovingly toward him.  
For some of us reading this, we have loved ones who do not appreciate our commitment to Jesus.  Perhaps they never bring it up, or maybe they confront you about it.  If that’s your experience, you know what Jesus is saying here.  
The looming question for us here is this: are we willing to follow Jesus at all costs?  Is our commitment to Him such that no thing or no one can stand in our way?  If it is anything less, then chances are that thing or one will eventually stand in our way.  It is important that we are honest about whether or not Jesus is our primary love.  
Sending Prayer:
“Jesus, I love You and I choose to follow You.  Examine my heart and help me see if You are indeed my first love.  I confess You as Lord of my life.  I am grateful for the people in my life, and I want my life to be a testimony to You.  Amen.”
FRIDAY, 1/20
Read Luke 9:23
His reputation likely preceding Him, Jesus watched as a crowd of people gathered around Him. Many of them had heard about the miracles He performed, including feeding thousands of hungry people, exorcising demons, and healing those disfigured by disease and displaced from their communities.  I can only imagine how tempting it was to watch Him do these tasks over and over. Being in awe of Jesus is easy; following Him as a disciple is a whole other challenge.
To follow Jesus means to be ready to lay down our lives just as Jesus did. Discipleship requires continually yielding to the call to follow Jesus. This means that we must deny ourselves of what we prioritize in this world, refocus our lives on what we are called to do, and follow Jesus in all that we do and say–not once or twice, but daily.
What once sounded so simple actually requires a greater commitment than we may be ready for. What does it take to move from knowing Jesus to living as He did? What kinds of changes would you have to make in your life to intentionally follow Him?
Sending Prayer:
“Lord, thank You for the chance to draw closer to You, even though I make mistakes. Thank You for Your grace and Your patience as I learn how to live like You do and love like You do. What will it take to be the most effective example of Your love? How can I use my faith story to open the hearts of others so that they too can begin following You? I place my life in Your hands, Lord. Amen.”
Read Luke 9:24
This verse seems counterintuitive: “If you want to save your life, you will lose it, and whoever loses their life for Jesus will save it.” If you are focused on your own self-interests, you are unable to have a faith-based life.  This new kind of life requires us to stand our ground when facing the consequences of sin, to seek forgiveness when we have hurt someone, and to draw strength from our faith in times of trouble and sacrifice. This kind of life requires us to invite God into our challenges and sing His praises with every success. This kind of life requires constant attention to details, to prayer, and to reading scripture. This life challenges us to grow into the kind of people we are created to be. This life is community focused, not self-focused.
One source explains today’s reading this way: exhortations are given to soldiers who are about to enter into battle. The first to die are those who turn and run.  The one who seeks to preserve his  life will lose it, but the one who  gives no thought to the preservation of life will keep it.  True fulfillment is to be found in the giving up of one’s life.
We are blessed to be able to choose between our own paths and where Jesus would lead us. How do you keep your ambitions, your desires, and your unchallenged sins from throwing you off course? How do you ensure that Jesus remains your priority? 
Sending Prayer:
“O Holy God, it is a constant struggle to keep my wants and needs under control so that You take precedence. Help me prioritize my faith and my love for others above my own self interests.  Strengthen my faith, especially in difficult circumstances. Guide me so that I may learn how to live like You in today’s world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
SUNDAY, 1/22
Read Luke 9:25-26
Familiarity breeds comfort, confidence, and even strength. But just because it is familiar does not mean that it is the best way to do things. If we drive to work using the same turns and landmarks we always have, we become oblivious to the details (the speed driven, the beginning and ending of construction of that drive, the same number of miles driven) of that drive. We drive it without thinking about alternatives.  We assume it is the best way to go because we have always done it that way!
Sometimes we have to get out of our comfort zones to overcome old habits, whether they be sins, unhealthy relationships, or a life focused on pursuing higher salaries and greater titles (a.k.a. financial success). We have to be prepared to face difficulties that challenge our spiritual lives. The only way to move past old habits or sins is to recognize a negative habit then determine next steps to prevent it from happening again. This change in focus requires a faith community to call us out on our sins and support us in our transition. 
Discipleship requires a public commitment so that the way we live and what we do may be a witness to others. Whom do you look to as an example of true discipleship? How have you changed your words and your behavior to be the example others may need to become better disciples?  
Sending Prayer:
“God of Grace, pull me closer so that I can see the habits that prevent me from becoming the best disciple I can be. Open my mind. Change my thinking so that I can better serve You. What must I do to support others in their faith? How can I be receptive to Your presence during my transition away from this world’s focus? In Jesus’ name. Amen.”