Sunday, December 4, 2016
Some people have turned away from God because they feel He isn't doing His "job" of perfectly orchestrating the Universe.
Actor and atheist Stephen Fry has even attacked God for not curing cancer, and for allowing suffering. And a prominent Biblical scholar turned away from his faith in God because of this "problem of suffering," by which he means that God "allows" suffering, pain, abuse, hatred, wars and other calamities.
People have long blamed God for causing storms and tidal waves, or for not curing all diseases, or for allowing children to die, or for allowing a spouse or relative to be killed in a car accident or plane crash. Others blame God because they are not prosperous enough, or because they have abusive spouses, or for their dead-end job, etc, etc, etc.
But that's not what God does (even if it's what ancient people - pagan and Jew alike - thought God/or "the gods" SHOULD be doing.)
Jesus teaches us that it rains on the good and the bad alike. He doesn't promise prosperity for those who follow his message of repentance and righteousness, but instead, we may receive persecution and hatred from others.
Many religious people today cite God's "promises" as if they were going to be angry if He doesn't comply with them. But this is backwards. And it's not a healthy relationship to have with our Creator.
Moses in Deuteronomy notes that we can't bribe God with words or sacrifices to get Him to do our bidding. The Hebrew Prophets say God isn't in the storm, and in fact, God isn't there to manipulate the Universe for our benefit at all.
So, there's a far more healthy way to view both God and our suffering.
Jesus demolishes the idea that God is partial and uses Nature to punish us, as if we somehow bring Nature's wrath upon us by our behavior. He was asked by the disciples, "'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." (John 9:2-3)
In the Book of Luke, Jesus uses two examples of disasters - a tower falling in Siloam and Pilate "mingling blood" with the Jews' sacrifices - to dispel the myth that our sins cause disasters (13:1-5.)
And these words of Jesus tell us all we need to know about the cause of natural disasters, birth defects, and all of the things with which we struggle in our lives.
James, the brother of Jesus, puts suffering into perspective, saying that suffering should be met with JOY, because it brings spiritual perfection by enduring it (James 1:2.) Why, then would we even blame God for "allowing" suffering?
So where IS God, exactly, amid all of this pain and suffering, and what is His "job?" James tells us God sends wisdom whenever we ask it from Him (1:5.) Maybe we should prayerfully do just that before raising our fists in accusation against God.
The fact is, God does not leave us, and is never far from us, even when we leave Him. God is here for us every second of every day - in the midst of every prayer - ready to fill us with His Spirit, His Wisdom and His Love, and give us peace and strength for whatever comes our way. God's not in the storm, He's in the still, quiet voice after the storm (1 Kings 19:12.)
"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." (Isaiah 41:10.)
We shouldn't be asking God where HE was when the storms hit, or when tragedy befalls a family, or when our neighbors are hungry, ill-clothed or homeless. We should ask ourselves: WHERE ARE WE? "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you," says James (4:8.) The well-known Psalm says "I will fear no evil, for you are with me," (23:4.)
And as we comfort them and fill their needs, we should encourage them to seek the tender, loving arms of God, our eternal Father in Heaven. God's "job" is to help us become spiritually complete.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock." (Matt. 7:24-25)
Here in Jesus’ words we see what that rock really is which is a Christian’s security in the day of his trial; namely, the attending to and following the advice and counsel that Jesus had given in the Sermon on the Mount, and doing what he had been recommending us to practice.
Jesus had been recommending to his audience the practice of moral virtue, or the conforming men’s attitudes and actions to that law or rule of action which is founded in the reason of things.
It is both hearing these sayings of Jesus AND doing them, which is (in Jesus' words) building upon a rock, and which is a Christian's ONLY security in the day of his judgement.
It is not professing Jesus, nor calling him Lord, nor giving him the highest praises, nor is it an “orthodox faith” or its creeds, nor is it assenting to mysteries and unintelligible propositions, that are the rock a Christian may safely and securely build upon.
It is to have our minds possessed with those virtuous qualities, and our lives adorned with those worthy and virtuous actions that Jesus in the preceding Sermon [on the Mount] had been recommending, which alone can afford a just ground of hope and comfort.
Our Master goes on in verse 26: “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.”
Here we see what folly and madness it is for a person to make anything besides hearing these sayings of Jesus and doing them (or the practice of moral virtue) the ground of his confidence; because anything, and everything short of this would be like building a house upon the sand, which when the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon it, it would fall, and great would be the fall of it.
Whoever believes in Jesus is called upon to become a virtuous and good person; such a person will be saved, or have everlasting life. And whosoever in this sense does not believe, that is, does not become virtuous and good, but goes on in a vicious and wicked course of life, such a person will die in his sins.
It is the doing or not doing what Jesus requires, which is the ground of our safety or danger; and this is the test by which we shall be judged, according to Christ's own words.
The Gospel are to become a principle of action in the believer, and rightly direct their mind and life.
But our Master makes the case still plainer, if such a thing is necessary, in his answer to the man's question, Matthew 19:16. “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” This was a plain and a fair question. And the answer which Jesus returned to this important question was, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
This answer was as plain and full as the case required. The only ground of divine acceptance, that which renders us pleasing and acceptable to God, and which secures to them the happiness of another world, is keeping the commandments.
From all which it is most evident that by the Commandments Jesus means the moral law, or that rule of action which is founded in the reason of things; and which therefore every rational being ought to direct his behavior by, and whoever makes this law the measure of his actions shall have everlasting life.
Here again we see Jesus declare that the way to eternal life, or the true grounds of divine acceptance is to keep the Commandments, by loving God and our neighbor, which is nothing else but conforming our minds and lives to that rule of action which is founded in the reason of things.
The questions which were put to him were of the highest importance to us all, namely, what we should do that we might obtain eternal life; and he was sent out into the world that he might be a safe guide to us in this very issue, and has given us a full and true answer to those questions, plainly declaring all that was necessary for us to know and do in order to obtain eternal life.
We may depend upon it that the keeping the Commandments, or the governing our minds and lives by that rule of action which is founded in the reason of things will most certainly render us pleasing and acceptable to God, and secure to us the happiness of another world.
(Adapted from "The Gospel of Christ Asserted," by Thomas Chubb, 1738)
Sunday, November 20, 2016
They are to bear one another's burdens, sympathize with and comfort one another under the various afflictions and persecutions they might meet with in, and from the world; and by a good example provoke one another to love and good works.
Christian societies are intended to be a specimen of the blessed effects of the Gospel of Jesus, when it is received as it ought to be ; that is, when it becomes a principle of action in men, which rightly directs and governs their minds and lives.
Christianity is not a name, but a thing; and therefore it is not the professing, but living, according to the Gospel which truly represents it to the world. Christians are known to be such, not by their name, or by their profession, but by their lives. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35.)
The banner of a Christian is not the picture of a cross hung upon a pole, or made upon a man's forehead; but it is a virtuous and blameless conversation, or a mind and life conformed to the Gospel of Jesus. These are the purposes which Christian associations are intended to serve, and thus Jesus intended that such associations should be subservient to the furtherance of the Gospel, and should recommend it to a general acceptance.
Jesus did not lay the foundation of friendly organizations to answer the purposes of pomp, or wealth, or power.
He never intended that among his disciples and followers, some should be singled out from their brethren to be possessed of great revenues, live in stately palaces, wallow in luxury and ease, or sordidly heap up riches to raise a family; nor that they should lord it over those by whose labors they are maintained, clothed in pompous and elaborate dresses, placed on thrones or garnished stalls and feats of honor, assuming and exercising dominion over their brethren; and that others should labor to maintain them, be subject to them, bow down before them, and call them Rabbi, Rabbi.
Jesus was so far from giving any approval to anything of this kind, that on the contrary he has strictly forbade it.
"But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve," (Matt: 20:25-28)
And also, “But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' because you have only one teacher, and all of you are brothers. And don't call anyone on earth 'Father,' because you have only one Father, the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'Teachers,' because you have only one teacher, the Anointed One! The person who is greatest among you must be your servant.” (Matt. 23:9-11.)
Here we see Jesus has taken all possible care that no authority or dominion, superiority or pre-eminence, dignifying or distinguishing should take place among his disciples and followers considered as such. He has not only forbidden it, but repeated that prohibition over, and over, and over.
This is the charge which Jesus has given; and therefore Reverend, Right Reverend, and Most Reverend Fathers in God, and all other badges of distinction, and marks of honor pre-eminence, superiority, or dominion, which take place in Christian organizations considered as such, and which serve to introduce a groundless respect and veneration for the persons of men, and a groundless submission to their pretended authority, are not only not Christian, but the most gross Anti-Christianism. They are set up in opposition to, and in defiance of Jesus’ authority, and his special charge and command to the contrary.
This is not to say that Christians are not to render to their fellow Christians honor to whom it is due, (that is, to such of their fellow Christians who, by their virtue and good works, have rendered themselves worthy of it), and by showing decent marks of respect to them.
But if, in a Christian organization, a person seeks to be greater than others, it must be, not by his having greater possessions, or greater marks of honor conferred upon him, or by exercising dominion over his brethren (these being Anti-Christian) but it must be in his greater services and in his being more useful than others, in imitation of his Master, who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.
(Adapted from sermons by Rev. Thomas Chubb)
Sunday, November 13, 2016
A passage in the Gospel of Luke gives many today the idea that Jesus teaches us that God wants us to be rich – and if we only give out money (to others, especially to Evangelical Christian ministers) – then God will make us rich, too!
Luke 6:38 reads: "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
This has become a very popular “proof text” to show that God indeed wants us to become wealthy in this life as a sign of His blessing and “favor” above other people.
But those who assert this are not at all hearing the plain (and clear) words God’s chosen, anointed one, Jesus.
In fact, taken in context, Jesus was speaking of reciprocity – doing to others as we would have others do to (and for) us:
"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
This is a call to serve and give to others both equally and generously, and for us to serve and give to those who are serving US just as generously – without judgment or condemnation. How wrong it is to turn this into a "Return on Investment" scheme in which we contractually force God into paying us when we give his ministers money!
If we actually listen to Jesus, he speaks clearly to us about wealth – and in fact, he speaks about wealth and poverty perhaps more than on any other topic.
"And he said to them, 'Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.'" (Luke 12:15)
Is that a clear message about seeking wealth and earthly possessions? How frequently Evangelical pastors forget to quote THIS verse!
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21
The message begins: “DO NOT lay up for yourselves treasures on earth.” Is that a message that tells us we will be showered with wealth in this life? Clearly, it’s not the money we acquire, it’s the goodness in our hearts and the purity of our actions that "lay up treasure" in Heaven.
And when the one we call “Master” says, “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24) how much clearer does he have to be?
Jesus also told a Rich Man who asked what he must do to be saved (after telling him to obey the commandments) to sell his possessions (Mark 10:17-22.) What would a well-off family today think when told they must do this to be Saved? Can you imagine how surprised they would be!
And yet, many church-attenders today have been taught by their pastors that if they think positive thoughts, have a lot of faith, and “name and claim” the material goods they desire, God will instantly give these things to them.
But we are not told by Jesus to “name and claim” riches in the name of God. This is magic, not the God-centered faith Jesus preached. Instead, Jesus says repeatedly and plainly that we should not put our trust in earthly riches, NOR SHOULD WE SEEK THEM, instead seeking the Kingdom of God and praying that we may bring God’s Righteousness into our own lives, and on this earth.
What Jesus preached was consistent with the Wisdom of the Prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures.
"Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf." we learn from the Proverbs (11:28.)
The Pslamist writes, "Though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them" (Psalm 62:10.) And warns about those who, "trust their riches and brag about their abundant wealth" (Psalm 49:6.) and warns against "the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth" (Psalm 52:7.)
Jesus and the Hebrew Bible instead both call us to be rich in Righteous ACTIONS, even if we are poor in our finances. Jesus and Scripture both teach that riches are judged by what we accrue in Heaven, not on earth. And both teach that poverty in spirit is worse than poverty in material wealth. In fact, material wealth often gets in the way of spiritual wealth.
Calling upon God for money, and measuring God’s "favor" and blessings by the money we acquire from God makes God into a Heavenly ATM machine, where we get whatever we wish and our desires are gratified, instantly.
Whenever Jesus opens his mouth, his message negates this gross parody of God’s Kingdom.
Let us serve God with abundant spiritual Riches, loving God and our fellow human beings as Jesus calls us to do for the sake of God’s Kingdom. As we do this, we will grow eternally in Heavenly Riches that will never fade away and rust and moth cannot never touch.
Sunday, November 6, 2016
We can be assured that in this world, we will face trials and troubles, conflict and chaos. But we know that God will always be with us as a source of comfort and strength.
We are confronted with unpleasant and angry people, at work and in our families.
We are torn by indecision and conflict, both within ourselves and among others.
We are given chances to lives immorally and treat others unjustly.
And we are faced with challenges that threaten our passion for righteousness and goodness.
But God is with us as our source of strength and wisdom, to guide us in times of trouble.
"Don't be afraid," God assures us. "because I'm with you, don't be anxious, because I am your God. I keep on strengthening you; I'm truly helping you. I'm surely upholding you with my victorious right hand." (Isaiah 41:10)
Our God "gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak" (Is. 40:29.)
Jesus, the one whom God chose to be our example and teacher in all things, says we can call upon God in prayer when we need strength, peace and comfort.
To hope for a life of ease, without any problems and a guarantee of wealth, power, health and fame is not the Way Jesus promises us. Instead, Jesus tells us what the Prophets of old told us, that we are not alone because we have God with us.
We are to find peace not in a vague IDEA of Jesus, but in the life, message and death of this man that God chose and sent out to us as a supreme example.
Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." (John 14:27)
And, further, he says, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Peace, or "shalom," was, and remains, a greeting for the Jewish people. It signals that God's peace is with us, and that we may take comfort in God's sheltering arms.
The Psalmist assures us that, "Yahweh is my strength and my shield. My heart has trusted in Him, and I am helped. Therefore my heart greatly rejoices. With my song I will thank Him." (Psalm 28:7)
James the Brother of Jesus says trials and troubles strengthen us and make us more perfect (James 1:2-4.) Wisdom is freely given from God, if we ask for it in faith, he says (1:5.)
We may call upon God for wisdom in our times of need, knowing He provides us with all we ask of Him (Matt. 7:7.)
We are urged by Jesus to "remain steadfast" and "endure to the end" (Mark 13:13) seeking after Heavenly treasure when we go to God in prayer (Matt. 6:20; 6:33)
Again, Jesus calls us to hear his words and understand them, bearing fruit and harvesting good works in this world. But when we allow his words to fall on rocky soil, "when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word" that person "immediately" falls away (Matt. 13:20-23.) We must instead by firmly rooted in the teachings of Jesus and the knowledge that God has given us through him and through the Scriptures.
And as the winds of turmoil beat against our lives, if we remain planted firmly in the rock of Jesus' teachings, we will prevail against them. (Matt. 7:24-27)
When we trust in God and follow the one whom He has chosen, we need never fear whatever the world throws at us, because we can endure to the end.
Sunday, October 30, 2016
God equips us, from birth, with gifts that are meant to be used for Good. Jesus - the one God has chosen and sent out as our perfect example - calls on us to do all that is within our power to perform Good Works, relying on these Original, Natural gifts, and seeking greater strength and wisdom from God, Who gives to us abundantly when we need spiritual renewal.
Jesus, God's spokesman and our example, did not chart out for us any new way to earn God's favor and eternal life. In truth, he taught the same path that always was, and always will be, the true path to eternal life; namely, keeping the commandments, or loving God and our neighbor, which is the same thing, and is the sum and substance of the God’s Moral Law.
Jesus' call, "whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" (Matt. 7:12) summaries his entire ministry and the Hebrew Bible's moral teaching.
By following after the path God wishes us to lead – the path of Righteousness – we will live fuller, more complete and more joyful lives. Jesus lays out for us this path clearly, plainly, and in a way that needs no further revelations or elaboration from men.
Jesus has clearly called us to a life of works and action, of radical love and service, calling on us to love our neighbors just as we love ourselves. (Mark 12:33; Matt. 22:35-40)
Jesus teaches us that we should humbly perform Good Works and Holy Service. As Jesus' brother James puts it, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:26.)
Jesus calls us to seek to become more holy people, to seek to act in righteousness.
Jesus calls on us to deny ourselves, and to serve others first. We should live our lives in the joyful service of others.
Jesus calls us to achieve, to do, to act, to work, to seek out the truth, to be humble, to worship and praise our God, and to love others.
Jesus calls us to put his teachings into practice in our lives, lest we build our houses of faith on the shifting sands of mere words and empty praise, rather than the solid rock of obedience. (Matt. 7:24-26)
Jesus calls on us to not be hypocrites. He pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees – the religious leaders of his day – for being obsessed with man-made doctrines and rituals, but neglecting, "the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness." (Matt. 23:23)
And how do we know that we can do this, that we can do all that Jesus asks of us? Because Jesus lived in perfect obedience, doing in all things that pleased God (his and our Father) and showed by this example that ALL OF US are able to do as he did.
We are left without excuse, therefore, and are called to humbly seek the spiritual completeness Jesus achieved, asking God's forgiveness when we fall short, repenting of these sins, and seeking strength to continue in obedience.
Let us humbly and with reverence serve God according to the example He has chosen for us – through the life and the teachings of Jesus. Let him alone be our example and guide in all things.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Jesus was chosen by God to be our teacher, but not just a teacher, our complete example. In Jesus, we have our model for how God wishes us to live, and in him is our assurance that a human being may live according to God's will.
Jesus calls us to live lives of radical love, radical service and radical obedience; and he invites us to become his life-long students, learning to serve God and Others.
To consider Jesus as anything less than a teacher who challenges his students to achieve greatness makes Jesus into something less, something small, something light and easy to obtain.
That which we obtain cheaply, we esteem lightly. A gift freely given, a gift unwrapped and unused, is a worthless gift, regardless of the cost. Teachings unused, and unapplied, are exactly the same - useless.
The word "Teachings" can have a weak sense about it. Some who claim his name even MOCK Jesus' teachings, as if they are not really that important.
But we can flippantly follow the moral teachings of a philosopher, or not. We can heed a schoolteachers' teachings, or casually ignore them. But if we believe God chose Jesus as humanity's teacher, his teachings are vital to all that we do.
And to call ourselves his students, then, is the most important thing we can do, because these teachings are the most pure, most Godly and therefore most important teachings ever shared amongst the human race.
To follow Jesus' teachings is a challenge no other teacher has ever made.
No other teacher has called us to live lives of radical love - a love that dares equate what we give to our neighbors, to strangers, and even to our enemies, to what we give our SELVES.
No other teacher has called us to live lives of radical service - a service that leads us to think of Others first, to deny our own needs, to care for all who are suffering and in need, and to always do more than is required.
And no other teacher has called us to live lives of radical obedience - serving God completely, repenting of our past sins, seeking Heavenly, rather than Earthy treasure, and striving to live in complete and perfect obedience to God's will.
Some say that we can never be perfect students, so why even listen to the teachings? Others believe they can get an "A+" by just being the teacher's pet, or that they can contemptuously ignore the teacher's instructions, but still graduate simply by shouting that same teacher's praises! But Jesus says it doesn't work that way.
The easy path, where all doors are opened for us and all gates are wide, isn't the path Jesus calls us to tread.
Instead, Jesus knows that, like all students, we will fall short, we will fail, and we won't do our best at all times. No student gets an A+ all the time, and certainly without effort, and Jesus never expected instant perfection from those who accepted his instruction.
God didn't choose Jesus as our teacher to mock us, and Jesus - like any good teacher - doesn't mock us for falling short of the goals that God set for us, either.
We are called by Jesus to seek God's forgiveness when we fall short of these very, very challenging goals. We have the gift of prayer to seek wisdom and strength to achieve them, and the knowledge that God's forgiveness is infinite, as long as we are seeking Godly Righteousness, and that we repent when we sin.
Jesus challenges us to be better students of Godly Righteousness. This teacher, Jesus, is worthy of our full attention and devotion.