Count the Cost of the Life You are Living

Image result for count the costWe have been talking a lot about the freedom we have in Christ. Sometimes I think that we start believing that living in this freedom has no cost to us. So, we are surprised when God asks something of us. It is true that Jesus has paid our way to God. But, living in His way does cost us. The glory is that is costs so much less than living our own way.

Luke 14:27-33 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— 29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’… 33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.

What does it mean to count the cost? It means we consider what pains, hardships, blessings, and opportunities the path we are on truly give us. As we were talking last Sunday through Galatians 5:1-16, I thought of the 3 paths that Paul set before us. He set grace, legalism, and the flesh before us. Each path suggests a type of blessing to us. The path of grace declares that we have eternal life through Christ’s righteousness. The path of legalism promises self obtained righteousness if we follow every rule before us. The path of the flesh promises pleasure and self-determination.

Each path also has a cost. The path of grace encourages us to give up being the boss of our own life and let Jesus lead our every moral and significant decision. This may lead to sacrifice or persecution as we go against the desires of culture or friends and family. The path of legalism requires us to keep every rule without fail. If we fail, we pay a high price (the same price as the flesh); and we constantly live under the weight of that possible failure. The path of the flesh leads to pain as the flesh puts us under bondage and guilt as we hurt ourselves and others. Ultimately, it leads to hell.

I don’t know about you, but when I count the cost I understand what Jesus meant when He said that His burden is light. (Matthew 11:30) The “freedom” of the flesh leads to an even worse bondage. The “righteousness” of the law I just can’t achieve. It is only through grace that real life is found. There may be sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice that is worth it.

What about you? Have you counted the cost of the way you are living now? Is it really worth it?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Valuing Freedom on Memorial Day

Image result for the silver trump of freedomThere are those who don’t understand what the big deal is. They think that the freedom we have in Christ is important, don’t get me wrong, but they act as if the freedom of living by the Spirit instead of living by the law is a great blessing of salvation and not an essential of salvation.

Paul writes… “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:4)

To Paul it was a big deal. Why? Because of the greatness of Jesus. He would not abide anything that made Jesus smaller. As he said earlier in the same book, “If righteousness can be achieved through works of the law, then Christ died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:21) The freedom of Christ is paramount. It is an essential of the gospel. Without it, we do not have the gospel as Paul preached it. In fact, he declared that we become the enemy of the gospel if we embrace the works of the law.

Interestingly enough, Christians did not just apply this principle to just “spiritual matters”. The abolitionist Frederick Douglass had similar thoughts in his day regarding how people treated their fellow man. In the light of the cross, he believed that the freedom of Jesus demanded a true response from those who claimed to follow Him. He said,

“I love the religion of our blessed Savior. I love that religion that comes from above, in the “wisdom of God, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. I love that religion that sends its votaries to bind up the wounds of him that has fallen among thieves. I love that religion that makes it the duty of its disciples to visit the fatherless and the widow in their affliction. I love that religion that is based upon the glorious principle, of love to God and love to man; which makes its followers do unto others as they themselves would be done by. If you demand liberty to yourself, it says, grant it to your neighbors. If you claim a right to think for yourself, it says, allow your neighbors the same right. If you claim to act for yourself, it says, allow your neighbors the same right. It is because I love this religion’ that I hate the slave-holding, the woman-whipping, the mind-darkening, the soul-destroying religion that exists in the southern states of America. It is because I regard the one as good, and pure, and holy, that I cannot but regard the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. Loving the one I must hate the other; holding to the one I must reject the other.” (My Bondage and my freedom, 416)

For Frederick Douglass and the Apostle Paul the calling of Jesus was clear. Freedom was worth fighting for. A Christianity that undermined freedom was not Christianity. Do we act that way? Do we fight for our freedoms as Christians or do we make ourselves slaves all over again?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Habits… Do they make you free?

habits-change graphicWe all have habits. Some of those habits smooth out our day. We don’t really have to think about them. Some of our habits we wish we could give up. We call those our bad habits. Some of those habits come from our childhood and we never think about them. When it comes to our relationship with Jesus, do our habits free us to say yes to Him or do they make us say no to Him?

Paul asks this probing question – “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless  elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?” (Galatians 4:9)

Paul points out something we give little thought to – habits can make us slow to move or change. They can bind us. The bad habits lead us back to the sin we seek to escape. The good habits make following Jesus a habit instead of a vibrant relationship. In other words, we become a hypocrite. Paul couldn’t understand why they would choose that path. A spiritual life of mere habits is the path to slavery. It is either the path of slavery to past sins, or it is the path of slavery to legalism.

Why do we seek habits instead of walking in love with Jesus? We seek our habits because they are familiar. The familiar is comfortable. Even if we hate it, the familiar feels like home. Home is predictable. The familiar is known. We feel that the known is safe (or at least safer than the unknown). So, the familiar becomes a trap to us. We run to the familiar when our faith is challenged. We run to the familiar when we need comfort. We run to the familiar when scared or stressed. If the familiar is a habit that has little to do with Jesus, we find ourselves enslaved all over again.

What is the answer? The answer is to make something else familiar to us: running to Jesus. Paul doesn’t criticize Christians for having traditions. He criticizes any Christian who uses their family or cultral traditions as a crutch that undermines running to Jesus. You see, it isn’t about what habits we have. It is about whether those habits have Jesus at their center. Do I read my Bible to meet Jesus or because it’s on my calendar? Do I pray because I am meeting Jesus or because it’s what I do at 7 o’clock each morning? Do I go to church to be fed and praise God through Jesus or because that is what I do Sunday mornings?

The whole point of good habits is so we don’t have to think. I always put my keys in my right pocket. I always put my wallet in my left pocket. I always brush my teeth every morning. I always lock my car door when I get out. I don’t have to think about these things. They are automatic because they are habits. When it comes to my relationship with God, Jesus desires to give us more. He offers us a purposeful life. He offers us a life that is constantly renewed. He doesn’t offer mere good habits. He offers vibrant friendship. So, we need to become familiar with Jesus!

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Thinking about the witness of women on Mother’s Day

Consider this praise from the Apostle Paul:

2 Timothy 1:5-6 5  For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. 6 For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

As Paul was beginning what is our final preserved letter from him in the New Testament, he wanted to tell Timothy how proud he was of his chasing after Jesus. He encourages Timothy not by telling Timothy how much he owes Paul. He encourages Timothy by pointing to the women in his life that laid the foundation for Paul to build upon. Their witness and faithfulness is not forgotten or overlooked. It is emphasized!

As we celebrate Mother’s Day in the U.S., it is important to be reminded the essential role women play in our walk with God. Preachers get so much credit, but it is the women in our lives that do the majority of the ground work. Our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins live and testify everyday the grace of Jesus. Those women can be literal family or our spiritual family (or both). Yet, we feel their presence, we see their example, and we experience their commitment in the trenches of life.

No, they aren’t perfect (sorry Mom!). However, they show us one of the most important parts of walking in grace through faith: perseverance! Every Godly woman practices perseverance. If she yelled at her kids on Monday, she gets up on Tuesday to attempt to live with more patience. If she made her husband feel small on Wednesday, she gets up on Thursday to try to show him how precious he is to her. If she inadvertently hurts someone at work, she brings them a gift and seeks reconciliation. We don’t see perfection in the Godly woman (no matter how much she wants it). We see commitment. We see forgiveness. We see perseverance. We see what it means to live by faith.

Women – although the world yells at you to be perfect (perfect hair, perfect weight, perfect kids, perfect house), please understand that the gift you truly give us is even more spectacular: you don’t give up! Please keep showing us how to get up and keep chasing after Jesus. You show us that following Him faithfully doesn’t demand perfection. If it did, we would all be sunk! No, you show us that He forgives. You show us that what He asks of us is perseverance. Don’t give up. Seeing you, we won’t give up either!

A Prayer for Moms on Mother’s Day by M.S. Lowndes

May you know the love of God,
More and more each day
And know how much He values you
In every little way
Today, we want to let you know,
We appreciate what you do
And we want you to know that we
Are thinking now of you.

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My Heart and My Treasure

Image result for where your treasure is memeJesus said, “Wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” I have always used this verse as a test. I look at what my heart yearns for, and I discover what my treasure is. What if it can also be used as a challenge? Move your heart and your treasure will follow!

What do I mean? I mean that although it is true that our hearts follow what we treasure, it is also true that we can train our hearts to treasure new things. We aren’t locked in. In fact, we are encouraged to train our hearts to walk down new paths.

Paul says –

Colossians 3:1-4 ​1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Paul encourages us to set our minds on things above. This means that we are to keep practicing thinking about Jesus, thinking like Jesus, using the standards of Heaven and faith in our thinking, etc. In other words, train ourselves to chase after Jesus by training our minds and hearts to think based upon Him and His truth. Why do we do this? We do this, according to Colossians 3, because Jesus is our life.

Paul acknowledges here that sometimes there is a gap between receiving Christ as our Savior and truly making Him the treasure that our hearts chase after. His solution – set (train through practice) your mind on things above. The reason – our life is hidden with Christ (we are depending upon Him for our forever).

We live in a world that treats people as if they have no choice to change. Sure, motivational speakers sell books and have seminars on changing, but take a look at how we respond to people who say they are trying to change. The world is severely skeptical that anyone can ever really change, isn’t it? Instead of encouraging growth and change, the world gives little room for such change. In fact, it mocks such attempts to change. Sometimes, this skepticism seems to seep into the thinking of God’s people. How hopeless! That is not the experience or the expectation of believers in the Bible. They expected to be different. They expected to change. I want to learn how to have that kind of change. I want my treasure to be Jesus. Paul paves the way – train my mind and heart to think on things above. As I do, what I treasure will change. I will change with it!

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Using the Law

Image result for the bible and blind spotsBlind spots. I hate them in my cars. They cause accidents. They scare the livin’ daylights out of my. I hate them even more in my life. The problem of blind spots in life are two-fold – 1) I resist what it takes to remove them because 2) I create them!

Jeremiah 17:9  “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?

No one really likes talking about sin. It makes everyone squirm. As a pastor, I squirm because I really don’t enjoy heaping guilt on others. I also hate feeling like I have put myself above others. It makes the people in the pew squirm. They squirm because they wonder if I am talking about them, or they squirm because they think others will believe I am talking about them. Yet, the Bible reveals that there is an important reason it talks about sin – we are masters of self-justification. God warns in Jeremiah that we have a deep problem with good and evil: our hearts lie to us. In today’s world we call the lying of our heart self-justification.

Do we really practice self-justification? If you (like me) have ever held onto your anger and said that you had a right to be mean to someone because they were mean to you, you have practiced self-justification. Why? That is self-justification because we all would say that if everyone lived like that life would be unbearable. We justify it because we say we are entitled or we say that our anger is not that big of a deal. The problem with that perspective is everyone could justify themselves in the same way. Suddenly, we have everyone holding onto their anger because that is just what we do. Thus, Jesus said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” instead of “Do to others before they do to you.”

What does the Bible do for us? The Bible fully applied takes apart our self-justification. It is objective. It doesn’t change. It is honest about who and what we are. When we read Jesus’ application of the Old Testament law, all our justifications of anger, lust, coveting, gossip, and selfishness are challenged. Jesus points out how even sins of our heart destroy what God has designed for us.

So, what should we do? Should we run from the Bible so we can’t see our sin? That sounds like the emperor in the parable The Emperor’s New Clothes. He didn’t want to admit that he couldn’t see the clothes, and so everyone saw his mistake (his nakedness). Should we (as some do) explain away what the Bible says? Well, if the Bible is true it becomes a bit like denying gravity. It doesn’t matter how much you deny it, sin (like gravity) is still there.

No, we shouldn’t avoid what the Bible says. We also shouldn’t try to explain away what the Bible says. Instead we should let the Bible speak to our lives. We should (even when it makes us squirm) let it shine light on our motives and teach us. Then we should look at Jesus to discover who we should be like. Paul says that is what the Old Testament law is for. (See Galatians 3:19-28) It is to show us our need for Jesus. It’s purpose is to point to Jesus as the example and source of righteousness. It urges us to trust Him, follow Him, and embrace His heart as our own. If we ignore it or attempt to talk ourselves out of it, we subvert its purpose.

The next time you and I feel conviction when reading or hearing the Scripture, let’s not run from it. Let’s instead run to the Jesus that it points us to. Let’s accept its evaluation of our attitudes and motives. Then, let’s chase after the Savior’s heart.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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An Unexpected Protection


Image result for forgiveness freedom

When I think of my mistakes I have a recurring question: How can I make it right? In my quest to right the wrongs of my own making, I have discovered there is a difference between acknowledging wrongs and constantly living under the crushing weight of guilt. The difference is grace.

Here’s a newsflash (not really) – we are all guilty of sin. Here’s something that’s not a newsflash – you probably already knew that! How do I know that you already know that you sin? I know it because everyone I have ever talked to can tell me a time that they have wronged someone. With the exception of the very arrogant, most people are willing to admit to themselves and others that they have hurt someone in the past. Those that believe in God admit that they have disappointed or disobeyed Him in the past as well.

Paul was a man like that. He admits to Timothy that when he says, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

Now, before we all take positions about guilt and deserving punishment, let’s think for a moment about two things: 1) What Paul said about himself, and 2) How that same Paul lived his everyday life (as revealed through his letters).

  1. What did Paul say about himself? Paul declared in this passage that he was the foremost sinner of all. He gives himself no excuses, no reasons. Elsewhere, Paul calls himself one “untimely born.” (1 Corinthians 15:8) This is a self-deprecating comment about his early rejection of Christ and the persecution of the early church. In other words, Paul knew how bad he had wronged both God and others.
  2. Yet, Paul shows a freedom from guilt that is nearly scandalous! He declares himself to be free from the blood that he shed. (Acts 20:26) He also fully expected to receive the rewards of those who are faithful to Jesus. (2 Timothy 4:7-8) He also wrote some of the most celebrative passages in all the New Testament – both about Jesus and about the joy-filled life. (Romans 8, Philippians)

How could Paul escape the crushing weight of guilt? How could he both admit the evil he had done and live rejoicing everyday? Aren’t they mutually exclusive? No. Paul shows us the power of understanding grace. It is the power of release. It is a release from crippling guilt. It is a release of the power of sin and death. It is the release from the pattern of self-hatred and fear of divine retribution.

This is why Paul warned and pleaded with the Galatian church to not go back to trying to please God by using the Law as the gateway. Although the Law tells us of sin, it gives to real release from the power or the guilt of sin. Rules do not make one forgiven. Only grace does that. Good deeds cannot erase sin. Only grace does that.

When grace is received and understood, then comes freedom: freedom from the power of sin, freedom from sin’s crushing weight of guilt, and freedom from guilt’s power to steal our joy and keep us from starting over with God or people.

It is an unexpected protection. We thought that we were just getting Heaven when we heard of God’s gift of grace. He is giving us so much more. He will protect us from the weight of sin. He will lighten our load so we can start again. We won’t have to pretend that we have never sinned. We can have freedom and joy. Will we live in that grace today?

Something to think about,

Pastor John


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