Counting the Cost

Now there went with him great multitudes: and he turned, and said unto them,
“If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. Whosoever doth not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doth not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have wherewith to complete it? Lest haply, when he hath laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all that behold begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, as he goeth to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and asketh conditions of peace. So therefore whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-33).

As we begin a new year, many people consider resolutions regarding new behaviors that they would like to begin.  Great resolutions are often made– and then just as easily broken.  Some persevere with their resolutions.  Many more start out well and fade quickly.  Far more are never realized in any way.  Such is the nature of people: the spirit is always more willing than the flesh (cf. Mark 14:38).

Jesus knows this, and that is why He intends for everyone to “count the cost” of serving Him.  It is a decision that is not to be taken lightly: Jesus is demanding all of those who come to Him.  They are to suffer the shame and humiliation of the cross.  They are to forsake every other connection and tie if need be to serve Jesus.  To become a disciple of Christ is to be entirely changed; life will never be the same (Galatians 2:20).

Yes, the cost is great, but the reward is even greater (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).  Furthermore, while the cost of not serving Jesus is milder in life, its consequences in death are quite severe (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

All of these factors must be considered and a firm decision is called for.  There can be no “fence-sitting” on this question: you either decide to become a disciple of Christ or you decide to go your own way.  A lack of a decision is a decision against Him.

It is a decision that each must make for him or herself.  What will you choose– a hard life and a great eternity, or an easy life and a heinous eternity?  You must count the cost.

Even those who decide for Jesus must continually consider themselves and their faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).  Do you still have your first love (cf. Revelation 2:1-7)?  Are you growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)?  Are you pressing upward toward the goal (Philippians 3:14-17)?

As we reflect upon the past year and make decisions for the new one, let us consider the state of our soul.  Let us count the cost and be firm in our decision.  Let us strive to grow in Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Light Momentary Affliction

For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Forty lashes.  Beaten with rods.  Stoned and left for dead.  Shipwrecked three times.  Floated in the sea for a day.  Imprisoned.  Constant danger.  Suffering thirst and hunger.

These are the sufferings enumerated in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 that Paul personally experienced for the sake of the Gospel.  How many of us can say that we have suffered even one of these difficulties?

In comparison, our sufferings are minor.  We may be derided for our faith.  We may be laughed at or dismissed.  We may even lose a job or two.  Under some circumstances we might be physically beaten.  We suffer setbacks in our finances, relationships, and in our health, and these cause us great distress.

While our sufferings may not compare to Paul’s, nothing prevents us from having his attitude toward them.  He described them as light momentary affliction.

If he can consider being stoned “light,” how should we look at times when we suffer persecution?

If he can consider being lashed and shipwrecked as “light,” how should we look at our own physical difficulties?

If he can consider nearly starving as “light,” how should we look at our financial difficulties?

Paul is not really attempting to diminish the difficulties involved with suffering: suffering poses great challenge and trial of our lives and of our faith.  Yet, in comparison to the glory that awaits us from God, we can understand that we experience is very light.

Therefore, when we go through difficulties in our lives, let us be humbled by the sufferings that others have suffered for their faith, and have yet persevered.  When we go through difficulties, let us be encouraged by recognizing that the glory of the resurrection and being with God and Christ will make our sufferings pale in comparison.  The worse we suffer, the greater that day will seem!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Divine Kindness

“But love your enemies, and do them good, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil” (Luke 6:35).

Love and kindness come easily for those who are loving and kind to us.  We enjoy time we spend with those who love us and who are kind to us.  We get together with them and eat and give presents and receive presents.  We recognize that such people in our lives help make life worth living.

Can you imagine attempting to share such gifts with those who hate you?  What happened if you gave gifts to ungrateful people?  What if you did good to others and were repaid with evil?  What happens if you lend someone money and they never repay?

According to human logic, we would at best have nothing to do with such persons, and at worst do them harm (cf. Matthew 5:43).  It is expected that lovable people are loved and unlovable people are shunned.  It is expected that those who are ungrateful get little and those who do not repay have no credit.

Yet, in the Kingdom of God, all of these things are turned on their head.  Jesus turns the world upside down!  He prayed for those who reviled Him and crucified Him (Luke 23:34).  He prayed for His disciple whom He knew would deny Him (Luke 22:31-32).

As it is written,

For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die. But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life; and not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation (Romans 5:6-11).

While it is always easier to point fingers at everyone else, we must recognize that we, too, have spent our time in unkindness and ungratefulness (Titus 3:3-8).  God has showed kindness to us when we were unthankful and evil.  He showed us mercy despite our unmerciful attitudes.  He was not yet willing to condemn us even though we were willing to condemn others.  He provided wonderful gifts even though we forsook Him.

Therefore, it ought to be but a little thing for us to show divine kindness: love and help not just those who love us and help us, but also to those who make us uncomfortable, those who might use and abuse us, and those who may hate us.  After all, without God showing us such divine kindness, where would be be?

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Promised Messiah

“And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:31-33).

At this time of year, many stop to consider the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.  The picture of the Son of God– God the Son, in fact– as a relatively helpless infant is quite touching.  To consider that the Son of God experienced the same stages of physical growth as we have really brings the reality of the Incarnation home.

Nevertheless, many put great emphasis on the birth of Jesus, yet even in His birth, His purpose and plan are foreseen by Gabriel.  We can only imagine what Mary can see when she is told about her Son– King of Israel, sitting on David’s throne.  It presents so much hope and promise.

God’s plan, however, involves future suffering in order to accomplish this glorification.  Jesus was born so as to die as the Lamb of God (cf. John 1:29).  Jesus was born to be raised again in power (1 Corinthians 15).

Indeed, Jesus was born to be a King, but not like any other king who has ever been or ever will be.  While it is good to recognize that Jesus was born to Mary in a manger, we must never forget that we have life through His death and victory through His resurrection, and that Jesus is our King (Matthew 28:18, Romans 5:6-11, 1 Corinthians 15).  Let us stand firm in His Kingdom and proclaim His Word!

Ethan R. Longhenry

True Treasure

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Recent events have gone a long way to show to all of us how “uncertain” worldly riches are (1 Timothy 6:17-19).  Many people who felt rather secure about their financial position have lost significant portions of their wealth.  Companies that no one thought could fail have failed.  Investments that were “risk-free” ended up having risks.  People are afraid, concerned, and distressed.

Yet our response ought not to be to just trust in cold hard cash, either, because even that is only as valuable as people determine it to be.  There is no certainty in any form of riches.

Jesus knows this, and Jesus also knows that too many people, in reality, trust Mammon over God (cf. Matthew 6:24).  Of course, very few people actually confess that this is the case, but their actions speak volumes.  Things are well when the bank account is well.  Things are terrible when the bank account is empty.  The future is rosy or cloudy based on the financial forecast.

It is an easy enough trap to fall into, and that is why Jesus calls us with a higher calling (Philippians 3:14).  He knows that a day is coming when everything around us will be consumed (2 Peter 3:9-12).  How tragic it is to know that so much human endeavor is directed toward goals that are so fleeting and, ultimately, so worthless!

That is why we must place our confidence in God, and make “deposits” to our “Heavenly bank account,” where thieves do not break through and steal, where “credit bubbles” and “housing bubbles” do not destabilize, and where the “bank” never fails.  As Paul says, we do this by being full of good works– love, mercy, compassion, generosity (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

In the end, that is what remains– not what we have materially, but the relationships we develop and the souls we are able to touch with the love of Christ.  Those are all that will endure from this world, and that is why we must invest in them strongly.

But to do so, we must first decide where we are going to “invest” our hearts (Matthew 6:21).  Shall it be with worldly and uncertain riches and possessions, or shall it be in Heaven and in the Heavenly Kingdom?

Ethan R. Longhenry

Taking the Cross

“And he that doth not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).

After two millennia of veneration of the cross, it is easy for us to forget what the cross meant in first century Judea.  It was a symbol of Roman power, the fate for any who dared to stand against Rome.  It represented a horrifying way to die, perhaps the most cruel form of punishment and death ever invented by mankind.

For Jews crucifixion was even worse.  Death on a tree meant being accursed (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).  There was no glory in a cross, at least in the way that men consider glory.

These realities, therefore, were what came to mind to the disciples listening to Jesus.  A cross meant humiliation, shame, being despised, reckoned as accursed and defiled.  This was no “easy street.”

We also have to remember that at this point, Jesus has not yet been crucified.  While Jesus no doubt knew what would eventually befall Him, we should not interpret this verse as meaning that Christians must be physically crucified.  Such is not Jesus’ point.

Jesus is telling all those who would be His disciples that if they really want to be worthy of Jesus and eternal life, they must live a “crucified life.”  They must bear the shame and humiliation that comes from serving Jesus.  If they are considered cursed by man, so be it, if they may only win Christ.

Jesus’ disciples must renounce all that they have and, in a type, die in Him.  It is no longer to be about oneself.  It is now all about Christ.

“Taking the cross” is not a statement about wearing jewelry; it is a statement of the humiliation and sacrifice necessary to follow Jesus.  Many are called to do so, yet precious few answer.  What will it be?

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).

Ethan R. Longhenry

Fear Not

“And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

It is surprising to learn that God’s most oft-repeated command in the Bible is not to love or to believe, but to not be afraid.

Fear is a strong and basic impulse within mankind; it often serves us well, and can keep us from getting ourselves into too much trouble.

Nevertheless, fear is often used to manipulate.  Politicians attempt to instill fear in order to win votes.  Marketers use it to get you to buy their products.  Many fan the flames of fear to promote hatred.  The greatest atrocities of mankind are often perpetuated as a response to fear.

Fear is often the opposite of sober-mindedness (1 Peter 4:7).  We must take God’s command to not fear seriously.  What would we fear?  Persecution?  Torture?  Death?  While none of these things are pleasant, they pale in comparison to being cast into the trash pit of perpetual fire!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in considering this verse, said, “Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men.”  Whenever we become afraid of men and what men can do, we show that we do not really trust in God, and do not reverence and respect Him as we ought.  When we trust in God, respecting and revering Him, we know that no matter how terrible it may seem, men can do nothing to separate us from the love and peace of God.

In the end, what else are we really seeking?  Why, then, do we fear?

Ethan R. Longhenry

Summing Up the Law

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, trying him: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
And he said unto him, “‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.’ This is the great and first commandment. And a second like unto it is this, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ On these two commandments the whole law hangeth, and the prophets” (Matthew 22:35-40).

We like short and sweet.  Lengthy explanations and excessive details are considered boring and tedious, even when we recognize that complexity exists.

Succinct explanations help when they keep the “big picture” in mind.  Especially in religious circles, many have missed the proverbial forest for the trees.  Jesus came face to face with many such people in His ministry: the Pharisees were condemned for focusing excessively on details while neglecting the weightier aspects of the Law (Matthew 23:23-24).

Jesus provides the “big picture” of the Law: love the LORD with all of our faculties, and love our neighbors as ourselves.  As summations go, there can be no better; in truth, not a detail is lost.  All of our missteps, difficulties, sins, and shortcomings come from a lack of love for God or neighbor.

Why love?  The virtues of love are exalted in 1 Corinthians 13; we may summarize Paul’s message by saying that love is seeking the best interest of the beloved (cf. Romans 13:10).  Love for God is seeking His will and not our own (Hebrews 11:6).  When we love God, it is no longer we who live, but God in us (cf. Galatians 2:20).  If we live lives of sacrifice, as we are charged to do in Romans 12:1, we easily avoid iniquity.

Loving our neighbor can be challenging; after all, our neighbor often wrongs us, cheats us, or perhaps is entirely indifferent toward us.  Yet the power of the “Golden Rule” of Luke 6:31 haunts us: if we view our neighbor in such stark and dismal terms, how does our neighbor look at us?

How would we want to be treated?  Such dictates how we should treat others.  The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us what it takes to be a good neighbor (Luke 10:25-37): sacrifice and humility, helping without expectation of commendation or reward.  After all, this is what we seek from God, is it not?

It seems so easy to talk about “loving God” and “loving our neighbor,” and yet so difficult to put into practice.  It is far easier to be as the Pharisees, so devoted to the trees of various doctrines and technicalities that we neglect the important things.  If we have not love, we face condemnation.  Let us lay aside our own interests and instead put God’s interests and the best interest of our neighbor ahead of ourselves!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Spiritual Manna

And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by everything that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Welcome to Spiritual Manna.  It is my hope and prayer that this devotional will encourage you in your faith, and be of value in your life.

Why “spiritual manna”?  While Israel lived in the Wilderness, God fed them with manna (cf. Exodus 16).  It fell like dew from the heavens, and it could be gathered up, cooked, and eaten as bread.  Israel had no idea what it was, and thus called it “manna” (“what is it?”).  Without it, Israel could not have survived the Wilderness.

As Moses reveals to Israel in Deuteronomy 8:5, God so fed them to teach them to rely upon Him.  God provided the manna so that Israel would learn that man does not live by the bread that he gains by his toil alone (cf. Genesis 3:17-19): they can only survive by trusting in the LORD and His blessings.

So it was with the physical manna with which God fed Israel.  Yet, as Jesus indicates in John 6:49, all of those who ate that manna died.  He came to provide a better bread, as He explains in John 6:47-51:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth hath eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which cometh down out of heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: yea and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”

The manna that Israel ate is the physical copy of the spiritual reality in Jesus Christ.  It came down from Heaven, as did Jesus.  Israel ate of it and lived; we must spiritually partake of Jesus to live.  God intended the physical manna to direct Israel to the mouth of God; we must subsist upon the Word of God, the Bread of Life, if we desire to live eternally.

Therefore, as recipients of the promise and inheritors of the Kingdom, we must partake of the “spiritual manna.”  We must “digest” the Word of God, who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1, 14), that is, Jesus and His instruction.  We must learn of Him and trust in Him as Israel was to trust God in the Wilderness.

This is the reason for “spiritual manna.”  We hope, in this devotional, to help you better understand God’s will, especially the instructions of Jesus, and how to apply them to our lives.  We hope to encourage you to greater trust and faithfulness to God, wholly leaning on Him.

As we persevere in the wilderness of our lives on earth, heading toward the Promised Land of rest that is set before us (cf. Hebrews 4:1-11; 12:1-2, 1 Peter 1:3-9), let us take strength by feasting on the Word of God, that we may never lose hold of life indeed!

Ethan R. Longhenry