COUNTING THE COST

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? [Luke 14:27-28 (RSV)]

orchard swallowtail butterflyHaving witnessed the condemned walk to their tortuous deaths while carrying their crosses, the people of Judea knew exactly what it meant to carry a cross. The cross meant humiliation, indescribable pain, grief, anguish, and death! When Jesus spoke of cross bearing and cautioned His followers to count the cost of discipleship, it was clear He wasn’t offering a ticket to Easy Street. While He was offering a ticket to eternal life, it came with a price: the giving up of self and all that might come to mean—be it loss of status, relationships, family, possessions, or even life. Rather than an abstract ideal, discipleship was a hard reality that included denial of self and promised to be a challenge.

Some of us, when looking at the cost, would prefer a watered-down gospel. We want to be Christians without Jesus having any effect on our lives. We want the blessings of a new life without giving up the pleasures of the old. We’re happy to bear His name, celebrate both His birth and resurrection, and wear a cross, but we’re not that anxious to bear one! Wanting to guarantee our final destination, we want salvation without the sacrifice. Unwilling to surrender to God’s will, we figure a few good deeds can make up for our lack of faith and obedience. We want what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace.”

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. [Dietrich Bonhoeffer]

While free, God’s grace is not cheap. Jesus was the gift of God’s grace by which all of mankind could be saved, but it cost God His only son. Accepting Jesus’ name means far more than taking a spot in a church pew. God’s grace expects us to follow Jesus wherever He leads us and to do whatever He asks. We can’t just listen to a preacher; we must practice what Jesus preached! God’s grace expects us to love the unlovable, forgive the unforgiveable, reach the unreachable, and do what often seems impossible. God’s grace demands that we grow smaller while He grows greater—that we take up our cross and lose our lives in complete commitment to Him. For many, that loss is figurative but, for some like Bonhoeffer and most of the disciples, that loss of life was literal!

Costly grace…is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God. [Dietrich Bonhoeffer]

Jesus knew the price He’d pay when He threw the money changers out of the temple, healed on the Sabbath, and confronted the Pharisees; nevertheless, He did His Father’s will. Over 2,000 years later, He still calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him. Even though a Roman cross doesn’t await us as it did Jesus, Peter, and Andrew, taking up the cross for us today means that we willingly bear the cost of Christian discipleship as we sacrifice ourselves, our time, and talents in serving God and others. That cross doesn’t necessarily mean life will be easier, but it definitely will be better!

And he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. [Matthew 10:38-39 (RSV)]

For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world. [Titus 2:11-12 (RSV)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

JUST ASKING

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you.” [John 6:26-27 (NLT)]

Although people flocked to Jesus, many came for His miracles and what He could do for them rather than for His message. After all, He gave sight to the blind, calmed storms, gave excellent fishing instructions, cured the paralyzed, freed people from demons, healed the sick, raised the dead, turned water into wine, made money appear in the mouth of a fish, and fed thousands with next to nothing. After Jesus fed the multitude, the people recalled the Messianic prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:18 that God would raise up a prophet like Moses and they wanted to make Him king. They didn’t understand that the kingdom of the Messiah would be a spiritual, not a political, one. Rather than seeing Jesus’ miracles as God’s stamp of approval on Him and coming to Jesus out of faith, they came to Him looking for more. As if feeding lunch to over 5,000 hadn’t been enough, they wanted an even greater miracle on a par with the manna Moses provided for the Israelites. Even though Jesus fed 5,000 men for a day, Moses fed millions for decades!

Jesus, however, corrected them. The manna wasn’t from Moses—it was from God. Moreover, that manna only lasted one day—the true bread from heaven, the bread Jesus offered, would last for eternity. Jesus wasn’t there to sustain life with something perishable but to give life with something everlasting!

Seeing Jesus as a miracle worker and a political king, the crowd followed Him. How do we see Him and why do we come to Him? Do we come for spiritual reasons or worldly ones? We may not expect Jesus to provide the food and drink for our next party but are we seeking Him for other things we think we can get from Him? By joining a church, are we seeking friends, contacts, or status? Do we have a personal agenda like politics, business relationships, or help from the parish? Are we motivated to seek Jesus in pursuit of wealth, success, comfort, emotional experience, or a miraculous fix of a problem?

Do we look to Jesus for our advancement or to advance His kingdom? Do we want to be glorified for what we do or glorify Him with what we do? Do we want to feel loved and or do we want to love Him and His children? Are we seeking an emotional high rather than spiritual growth? Do we seek power, influence, or recognition rather than a life of service and humility? Do we want His joy without our obedience or His forgiveness without our repentance?

Like the woman at the well, do we want His water so we don’t have to walk to the well and fill our jugs? Like the people who followed Jesus to Capernaum, do we want Him to miraculously satisfy our daily physical needs? Are we little better than Judas and following Him for the pieces of silver preached in the prosperity gospel? Are we looking for material possessions and wealth or spiritual gifts and the Fruit of the Spirit? Do we seek Him for what He can do for us or for who He is? Do we look to Jesus to take whatever is in His hand or do we come to offer Him what is in ours? Just asking…

True Christianity is to manifest genuinely Christ-like behavior by dependence on the working of the Spirit of God within, motivated by a love for the glory and honor of God. [Ray C. Stedman]

I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. Yes, I am the bread of life! Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh. [John 6:47-51 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved

ORDINARY TIME

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. [Romans 12:1 (NLT)]

church - old world wisconsinI grew up in a church with hymn boards in the front of the sanctuary that displayed the liturgical church date and the day’s hymns. I loved seeing “First Sunday in Advent” because that meant there were only three more Sundays until Christmas. While “Lent” meant six weeks of no candy, “Palm Sunday,” with its promise of Easter (and Easter baskets) in just a week was always welcome. For most of the year, however, that sign was uninspiring. The weeks after Easter were simply noted as the first through the seventh Sundays of Easter until the arrival of Pentecost 50 days after Easter.

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday which commemorates the receipt of the Holy Spirit by the early church [Acts 2]. A mighty wind filled the house where the believers were meeting, what looked like tongues of fire settled on each person, and everyone was filled with the Holy Spirit. Because of the uproar, people gathered, Peter preached, and 3,000 new believers were added to the church that day. Pentecost was the day the Christian church was born! On the hymn board in our church, Pentecost also was the last notable event for the next six months!

From then on, that board marked time by how many Sundays it was after Pentecost until the church year started over again with the first Sunday in Advent. For a child, those months between Easter and Advent pretty much lived up to their church name: Ordinary. It felt like we were just marking time until something important, like Christmas or Easter, happened. What I didn’t understand as a child is that Ordinary Time in the church year doesn’t mean dull or commonplace. “Ordinary” comes from the Latin word ordinalis and refers to numbers in a series. It’s called “Ordinary Time” because ordinal numbers are used to count the Sundays as they relate to major church celebrations like Easter and Pentecost.

Granted, days like Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost commemorate significant events in the life of Christ and the church but that doesn’t mean any other worship service is less special or significant. Rather than celebrating specific events such as His birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and the descent of the Holy Spirit, the season of Ordinary Time celebrates the presence of Christ in our lives throughout the year. It is during this in-between time that we learn, grow, mature, witness, and serve as we live out our faith in Christ. If we think about it, the really extraordinary events in our lives usually happen in ordinary times!

Nothing in Scripture demands observing the liturgical year—it just is a tradition followed by several denominations. Nevertheless, whether or not we observe Ordinary Time, our worship should never be ordinary, sporadic, or missing altogether. Too many of those who claim to be Christians are little more than “birth and resurrectionists.” The message of the resurrection doesn’t end once the eggs are found nor does the significance of the risen Christ stop when the last of the jelly beans and chocolate bunnies are eaten. The promise of our salvation doesn’t disappear when Easter dinner is finished only to reappear at Christmas and disappear again when the tree is taken down. Christ’s birth and resurrection bring us love, grace, peace, forgiveness, redemption, and salvation, not just on Easter and Christmas, but in every ordinary day of our lives. Following Jesus isn’t limited to two days a year and the gospel message isn’t limited to a few events in Christ’s life. None of the days He walked on earth were ordinary and every day with Him is extraordinary!

The discovery of God lies in the daily and the ordinary, not in the spectacular and the heroic. If we cannot find God in the routines of home and shop, then we will not find Him at all. [Richard J. Foster]

But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. [John 4:23 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

IN GOD WE TRUST

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. [Psalm 118:8-9 (NLT)]

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,” And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave. [Francis Scott Key]

quartersIn one of those viral, supposedly true but probably not, inspirational stories, a wealthy man is said to bend over and pick up any and every coin he spots on the ground. When asked why he bothered to collect mere pennies, the man explained he didn’t pick up coins for their monetary value; he picked them up for the value of the message on them: “In God We Trust.” He believed the penny’s words to be God’s way of reminding him to trust the Lord rather than his wealth and considered every coin he found an opportunity to acknowledge his faith in prayer.

Thanks to Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase’s directive that, “The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins,” the phrase “In God We Trust” first appeared on a bronze two-cent piece in 1864. Our nation was in the midst of the bloody Civil War and those words were to profess the nation’s faith and trust in God during that turbulent time. The words were inspired by the fourth verse of our national anthem (written in 1814) that claimed “In God is our trust” as our nation’s motto.

In the 1950s, our nation was again embroiled in a war—the Cold War with the Soviet Union. In 1955, President Eisenhower signed a law requiring “In God We Trust” to appear on all U.S. paper and coin currency. The words were to differentiate us from the Soviet Union, a nation that promoted atheism and had passed anti-religion legislation. Unfortunately, there never seems to be a time when our nation is not in turmoil of some kind and we need to be reminded that our trust must be in God today as much as we did back in 1860s and 1950s!

Even though the front (or obverse) side of our nation’s great seal has the words E Pluribus Unum, meaning “Out of many, one,” that is not our nation’s motto. While it rightly reflects our country’s melting pot nature and how thirteen colonies came together to form one nation, “In God we trust,” became our national motto in 1956. Congress reaffirmed it as our motto in 2002, 2006, and again in 2011. The motto, explains historian Frank Lambert, “reclaims this notion that we’re a chosen people and that we were conceived under God and that we flourish under God, and we turn our backs on God at our own peril.” In spite of numerous legal challenges, the courts have upheld its use by saying that, rather than an official endorsement of religion, the motto is “ceremonial Deism.” As used by the Supreme Court, “ceremonial Deism” means that phrases like “In God We Trust” (or “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance) are nominally religious statements and practices deemed to be merely ritual and non-religious through their long customary usage. For a believer, however, there should be nothing nominal or merely ritualistic about trusting God! We must never forget that this one nation exists under God and we must place our trust in Him! We should also remember Lambert’s warning, that “we turn our backs on God at our own peril!”

If we ever forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under. [President Ronald Reagan]

He will judge the world with justice and rule the nations with fairness. The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you. [Psalm 9:8-10 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

SUNDAY MORNINGS

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. [John 4:23-24 (NIV)]

The purpose of this Christian society called the “Church” is, first: to glorify God by our worship. We do not go to church just to hear a sermon. We go to church to worship God. [Billy Graham]

Old World Wisconsin
In this day and age, we refuse to be bored. We watch one of three TVs while on the health club treadmill, stream music or podcasts when out walking, and check our phones at red lights. (Technically, we’re not texting while driving—we’re simply texting while stopping.) We could blame technology, but our penchant for boredom has been a problem since the beginning of time. A golden calf and some “pagan revelry” was the Israelites’ antidote for boredom while Moses was on Mt. Sinai. Then, when they got bored with manna, the Israelites demanded meat. David had at least eight wives but boredom caused his eyes to wander over to Uriah’s house where Bathsheba was bathing. Mankind just seems to be hardwired to tire of the “same old, same old” and, sometimes, that propensity for boredom enters into our worship.

“I laugh so much during church, it seems almost sinful; it’s just so much fun to come!” said a neighbor about her church. Another neighbor urged us to join them at their church because of the musical talents of their pianist/organist who is known for playing six keyboards at once. Neither neighbor, however, mentioned things like the substance of their pastor’s message, the basics of their church’s beliefs, or how their worship affects them. There’s nothing wrong with pastors who insert humor into their messages or great worship music but we must be cautious of thinking of church as entertainment. The center of attention is neither the man in the pulpit nor the musicians; it is the man who hung on the cross for our sins! Jesus was an impressive man while He walked the earth but impressing people was not His goal. If it was, He would have performed far more miracles; instead, He often told people not to tell anyone. His purpose wasn’t showy miracles but the lasting message of salvation.

The purpose of worship is not to praise the pastor, music, or setting; it is to glorify God! Pope Pius X said it succinctly: “Worship is for the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful.” It’s easy to get the glorifying part—we’re praising the wondrous nature of God, thanking Him for our blessings, and celebrating His glory. Our worship, however, shouldn’t stop there. Sanctification is one of the Christian words we don’t use a lot, but it simply means that our worship is supposed to change us—to set us apart from the world and worldly concerns for God’s holy purpose. As for edification, another churchy word, worship is about helping one another along the road to Christlikeness—the building up of a group of disparate individuals into the body of Christ. Regardless of the pastor’s ability to deliver a sermon or the worship leader’s choice of music, if the service hasn’t glorified God, helped change us for the better, or built up God’s Kingdom, we haven’t worshipped properly.

Is church where we go to be entertained or is it the place we go to be strengthened by His word and grow to be more like Christ? Is it where we go to be distracted from the cares of the world or where we go to worship the Lord and to revel in His glory? While bells and whistles are pleasant, we should remember that the purpose of church is worship not theater. Rather than fluff and stuff, we should be seeking a foundation in God’s word, the presence of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit. If we’re bored during church, the antidote isn’t more pageantry or spectacle, funnier sermons, or better music; it is more mindful worship on our part.

Worship is not about my enjoyment. It is about my enjoyment of God. It is not about my pleasure or my delight or my satisfaction. It is about my pleasure, delight, and satisfaction in God. Worship is not simply about glorifying God. It is about glorifying God by enjoying Him forever. [Sam Storms]

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. [Colossians 3:1-2 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

FENCES

Stay away from every kind of evil. [1 Thessalonians 5:22 (NLT)]

Moses received the Torah from Sinai and committed it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah. [Misnha (Pirke Avot)]

tigerLast December, after breaching the barrier surrounding the tiger enclosure at our local zoo, a man stuck his hand into the tiger’s cage. A similar incident occurred a few months later at a nearby airboat attraction when a man improperly went through the first enclosure and put his arms into the tiger’s cage. Although both men survived, they suffered serious injuries to their hands and arms. Fences are placed to protect us and keep us from getting too close to danger but you can’t protect people from their own stupidity.

Just as those fences around the tigers’ cages were meant to protect people from the tigers (and the tigers from people), many of the Rabbinic innovations were designed to protect the commandments of the Torah. It is in the Mishnah (the oldest collection of post-biblical Jewish laws) that we find the phrase “make a fence around the Torah.” It is this fence, not the Bible, that explains the hundreds of prohibitions we find in Judaism.

Those Rabbinic rules were supposed to prevent people from being tempted to break the law or unintentionally doing so. For example, items like hammers and scissors that were associated with prohibited work like building or cutting, were not even to be picked up lest handling them led to their use. Although the Sabbath officially begins at sunset Friday, a few minutes were added before its beginning and after its end to make sure no one accidentally worked too late or resumed work too early. Even today, for my Jewish friend, the Shabbat candles are lit and all work has stopped no later than 18 minutes before the sun officially sets. His Sabbath ends when three stars are visible, which can be about 30 minutes after sunset. Rather than additions to the Mosaic law, these fences were seen as a way of helping people remain obedient to the law; they were erected to keep people from giving into temptation or just cutting it too close! Sadly, through the years, the rules became increasingly complicated and, by Jesus’ time, they were the heavy yoke about which He spoke.

Nevertheless, Jesus gave us a New Testament version of building a fence when He equated the emotion of anger with the act of murder and the attitude of lust with adultery. Anger and lust are like stepping too close to the tiger’s cage—they’re dangerous territory! Just as picking up his cell phone on Saturday might lead my Jewish friend to break the Sabbath by using it, lust and anger can lead to something far worse! Sticking your arm in a tiger’s cage or stepping into sin never ends well and, rather than gouging out our eyes or cutting off our hands, we can erect spiritual boundaries to keep us and our loved ones safe. We may restrict our youngsters to G or PG movies or set specific rules about dating for our teens. We might use internet filters to screen out inappropriate content on our computers, abstain from alcohol, or avoid the appearance of inappropriate behavior by following the “Billy Graham rule” of never being alone with a person of the opposite sex except for one’s spouse. We each have our own spiritual fences.

Unless they’re found in Scripture, however, those fences are not doctrine. They are our personal rules and, as such, other people may have different ones, some of which may be closer or further from the tiger’s cage than ours. We are not in a position to judge other people’s spiritual barriers any more than they are to judge ours. Unfortunately, for the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, the fence around the Torah became more important than the law itself. We must never do that. Every fence we erect must comply with God’s simple law that we love Him with our entire being and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

…he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” [Mark 12:28-31 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.