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

The (Imperfect) Men of Faith

Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen. For therein the elders had witness borne to them (Hebrews 11:1-2).

Hebrews 11 enshrines the men of faith from the old covenant.  Yet consider these men:

Noah (Hebrews 11:7): got drunk, exposed himself in a tent (Genesis 9:20-21).

Abraham (Hebrews 11:8-10, 17-19): deceived rulers, took an additional wife without God’s consent (Genesis 12:10-20, 16, 20).

Sarah (Hebrews 11:11-12): laughed at God’s promise, lied about it (Genesis 18:9-15).

Jacob (Hebrews 11:21): cheated his brother, deceived his own father (Genesis 25, 27).

Moses (Hebrews 11:23-30): attempted to reject God’s call, at times did not give God the glory (Exodus 3-4, Numbers 20:1-13).

Rahab (Hebrews 11:31): lied to cover for spies (Joshua 2:3-6).

Gideon (Hebrews 11:32): made an ephod, caused family to go astray (Judges 8:24-27).

Samson (Hebrews 11:32): visited a prostitute (Judges 16:1-3).

David (Hebrews 11:32): committed adultery with a faithful servant’s wife, schemed to have that servant killed (2 Samuel 11).

These are the men whom God commends for their faith?  How can this be?

We must recognize that God is not commending these men and women for being perfect, because no one is perfect save Jesus Christ (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8).  God is not commending them for their sins and character faults.

They receive commendation for their faith– their trust in God at difficult moments, their willingness to do what God tells them to do even if they did not entirely understand or if the situation looked hopeless.

Being a man or woman of God does not mean that we are perfect.  It means that we place our trust in God and strive to follow His will in all things, even if we do not understand or if our situation looks hopeless.  Yes, it also means that we must confess our sins and repent of them (1 John 1:9), but let us not be deceived into thinking that God can only use perfect people.  The “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) is full of imperfect people who trusted in a perfect and holy God.  Let us strive to be as them, and run the race set before us!

And without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him (Hebrews 11:6).

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