Sunday, November 29, 2020

Would #Jesus Have Something To Say About Social Media? #JesusFollowers


Jesus lived long before the advent of social media, or even computers, but is there anything we can learn from him regarding how to deal with these wonders of our own era?

If Jesus is our teacher, guide, and Master, we can find useful guidance for all aspects of our lives in his teaching and example.

Social media can be, and is, a great benefit. We stay connected with family members, friends and co-workers, often years after they're no longer living near to us; we keep up with current events in our communities, our nation, and around the world, and we meet and interact with people from around the world whom we would never have met without social media.

But social media also has a well-known destructive side.

We can be addicted to staring at laptop and smartphone screens. We can become disconnected with the people who are ACTUALLY around us. And we can misuse this great gift in many new and harmful ways.

It's often easy to say hurtful things, safely hidden behind a screen, that we'd never say in person.

And perhaps one of the most damaging aspects of social media use is that it can portray others' lives as perfect, which leads us to feel bad about how our own lives measure up.

Jesus spoke of the hypocrites of his day among the Pharisees, saying that they were like whitewashed tombs - beautiful on the outside, yet

"You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean." (Matt. 23:27)

Jesus therefore calls us to not bear false witness, or put on a false fa├žade to others.

And what of the content we consume on social media? It's been said of computer programming, "Garbage in, Garbage out." Many years before this saying, Jesus spoke of what we put into our hearts.

"The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." (Luke 6:45)

We are called by our Master to absorb good treasures, treasure that lasts an eternity, and ones that bear good fruit in the here and now.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matt. 6:19-21)

Our God-anointed Exemplar goes on to explain that what we SEE can put goodness or evil into our hearts:

"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your vision is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your vision is poor, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt. 6:22-23)

Jesus also calls us to serve and love our neighbors, just as we love ourselves. (Matt. 22:39) This requires that we remain connected to the living, breathing people around us - friends, co-workers, family, neighbors, and even strangers that we encounter.

We can remain connected and reach out to them through social media, surely, but we ought not substitute a Message or text for a comforting word and a helping hand. Jesus calls us to perform righteous acts, in humility (Matt 6:1) feeding, clothing, comforting, visiting and actively engaging them - in person. (Matt. 25:35-36)

Jesus assures us that his teachings will last forever, and said if we truly love him, we will follow him, and do what he commands us to do.

Let's take his eternal teachings 20 centuries ago to heart when we use the wonderful gifts of our 21st century lives for the creation of the Kingdom Jesus says lives within us, and must come to this earth through our acts in his name!

Sunday, November 22, 2020

God Calls Us To ACT - In Holiness #JesusFollowers

We aren't born empty vessels, and God didn't create us just to manipulate human beings' every move. To read the Hebrew Bible or teachings of Jesus like this - as some do - is to grossly misread both.

While surely God does work IN us, and THROUGH us, when we come to a knowledge of God and His deeds, God even then does not make our decisions FOR us, nor are we incapable of acting until He does.

There are some people, born with severe birth defects or due to later injuries, who cannot move, speak or do anything without the assistance of others.

For most of us, however, that's not our reality. We are born fully able to do things, to think, to move, and to use our Reason. These are all gifts of God. We should praise Him for them.

Hopefully, when we do things, we act informed by the knowledge of our Creator and the example of Jesus foremost in our minds, but that's the point: We all have the moral ability to choose, and that's also the free gift of God. 

When we get a gift, we must open it, and use it, in order for it to be fully useful. Otherwise, it's soon thrown away. The same is true of God's mental and physical gifts.

God created us to make choices, to put our physical and mental gifts to good use, and to live up to our full potential. We can't wait for God to "work in us" and "make us" do good, or use God's alleged failure to "give us the ability to do good" (as some have argued - using some rather twisted Theology) for us to fail to act as God wishes us to act. 

How do we know this is the case? Because Jesus says none of this. Instead, he simply calls us to a life of joyful, active service, picking up our crosses daily, denying our Selves, and loving our neighbors by serving them. 

The Hebrew Scriptures tell us that God wants us to act, to do Justice, to seek Mercy, to love others, to be perfect (spiritually complete) and to live fully, and DO Righteousness, living Holy lives.

It is up to each of us to discover and build upon the gifts which God has given, using them to do Righteousness.

Some have said that we will become arrogant and self-righteous if we say we are "doing" righteousness. But the scriptures call us to do righteous deeds, and also makes it clear that God is pleased by them. 

Further, we will be judged by those deeds to determine whether we spend eternity with God, our Heavenly Father and Creator.

But Jesus warns us not to do righteousness in front of others just to be seen by them and praised by them. Part of being "holy," then, is being humble.

The Bible and Jesus' teachings also say we will be judged by our deeds - but not by human  standards, and not by other human beings, or even by ourselves - but by God alone. We are assured that God does not remember our sins when we confess them to him, and that He is an extremely merciful judge.

Man-made religion creates excuses for why we CANNOT do as God asks, and some even say we must not even try to do Good! But God and His chosen spokesman, Jesus, our example, tells us we CAN do all that God asks, and the life of Jesus shows us that we CAN become the human beings that God wishes us to be.

The Gospel is therefore an active challenge for us to DO righteousness, to ACT in holiness, to SERVE others fully and with joyfulness and humility, because that is our calling as human beings, and that is the challenge God has given us to accomplish! (It's also a Gospel this world needs desperately to hear!)

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Living In, And Through, Troubled Times #JesusFollowers

Tug of War - Conflict

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 tempted to be swept up in current events - such as the recent American election - and let it affect our health and spiritual well-being.

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 complete peace only 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, "GOD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to 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)

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 that whatever the world throws at us, we can endure to the end.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

What Does the Bible Say We Can Do? #JesusFollowers

The Bible tells us that human beings were fearfully and wonderfully made, and created in the very image of God, the creator of all the universe. (Psalms 139:14, Genesis 1:27)

It includes no call for us to have a low opinion of God's creation, and the fact that God created us all in His image means that the teaching of Jesus that we are to love our neighbors exactly as we love ourselves is a pure reflection of this truth. (Mark 12:31)

Further, Jesus teaches us to have incredibly high ideals for ourselves and to seek them in our daily lives every day.

We are to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. We are to be merciful just as God is merciful. We are to love God with every fiber of our being. And yes, we are called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. (Matt. 5:48, Luke 6:36, Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:31)

There is nowhere in the teachings of Jesus to support the idea the God believes we cannot do all that He asks of us, or that these ideals are placed before us in order to tease us with our imperfection and inability to achieve them.

Indeed, there is nothing in Jesus' teachings and nothing in the writings of the Hebrew Prophets for which we can justify or excuse mediocre behavior towards God, who nonetheless is merciful towards us when we fall short of those ideals and ask humbly for His forgiveness.

The Hebrew Prophet Micah says, "Who is a God like You, Who pardons iniquity and passes over the transgressions of his remnant of His inheritance?" (Micah 34:7)

So, everything Jesus said points to the fact that we are wonderfully made creatures in the image of God, innocent children who are capable of acting in a Godly manner.

And of course this is utterly consistent with the Hebrew Bible's teachings - teachings with which Jesus was completely familiar and believed were Scripture inspired by God.

Once we recognize this, new vistas open up on the pages of Scripture and in the teachings of Jesus because they become the art of the possible, and a reasonable and joyous challenge for us.

The teachings of Jesus thus become for us a template for living, an actual guide for Life as God wishes us to live it.

The Hebrew Bible, especially the Wisdom books in the moral teachings of the Prophets, is filled with verses calling human beings to achieve great things and live active lives of holiness and service to others.

"Be holy, for I am holy," declares God in Leviticus (11:44). "To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to Yahweh than sacrifice." (Proverbs 21:3). "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked." (Psalms 1:1). "Depart from evil and do good." (Psalms 34:14). 

In these Scriptures, we are viewed as noble and able beings, capable of achieving what God has called us to do.

"A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things," says Jesus. (Matt. 12:35) 

But yes, this same Bible is filled with people, and entire nations, who failed to live up to those standards.

Let us not be fooled by these Scriptures' ample examples of those who fell short of the ideals set by God. The very fact that those were made examples for us means that they are there on the pages to inspire us to avoid such mistakes and to do better than they did.

For example, King David was guilty of great sins and misdeeds. He repented of these (Psalms 7) and went on to serve God in holiness, saying, "Yahweh has rewarded me according to my righteousness. According to the cleanness of my hands he has recompensed me." (Psalms 18:20)

We, too, are called to Holiness and to piety by King David's example and by that of Jesus, who pleased God and did all the things that He asked him to do (John 8:29) and was chosen as his spokesman and Son at his baptism (Luke 3:22). He calls us to follow him, and to do all the he did. (Matt. 4:19, John 13:15, 14:12) And unless those are empty words, our Master meant for us to do just that.

We know that with the help of our Father in heaven, we may humbly seek to walk in the steps of His Son, Jesus, taking up our cross daily to follow him. By this, we become the beings that God created us to be, and we build God's kingdom on Earth with our acts of kindness and service.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

What Can We Change? [#JesusFollowers]

Nearly everyone has heard the “Serenity Prayer” which says: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The Stoics of ancient Greece also had a similar belief. Epictetus wrote, in his book the Enchiridion, "Of things, some are in our power, and others are not."

Jesus also addressed change. Some things, he says, cannot be changed, and some things aren’t worth worrying about.

"Do not be anxious about your life," he says, "what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?" (Matt. 6:25)

And in another place, he says, “Which of you, by being anxious, can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matt. 6:27)

While we can temporarily change the color of our hair, in fact, it cannot be changed but remains the same color in the long run. (Matt. 5:36)

In the Book of Proverbs, we learn that having anxiety can weigh us down (Prob. 12:25) and then there’s the oft-quoted Psalm 55, urging us to “Cast your burdens [cares] on Yahweh, and He will sustain you. (Psalm 55:22)

Jesus’ meaning, and the meaning of these other sayings of scripture, is that those things that we cannot change, we shouldn’t waste time worrying about.

And that’s very wise advice.

But while the Hebrew Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus are filled with admonitions to not waste time on things that aren’t changeable – nor worth changing – Jesus clearly calls us to actively change ourselves, to be “born again,” to repent of our previous bad actions, and also calls on us to ACTIVELY do Good Works that will build God’s Kingdom here on this earth. (Matt. 5:16, 6:10, 7:24; Luke 6:33-35)

He says we must “turn” (change) and become like little children, otherwise we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 18:3) That's work we're called to do.

He calls on us to feed others, and clothe and house them. He calls for active service in the name of God and the name of God’s Kingdom. (Matt. 25:35) That's work, too.

Today, his message is often missed, or entirely overlooked, because it’s hard. And we like things that are easy.

God is seen by many as a pill we can take to get easy, fast relief, to stop working. God becomes OUR servant, a “mother’s little helper” in whom we can rest. And finding spiritual rest in God is certainly part of what God is, and what God offers us, in our always-busy, hectic lives.

But God should never be seen as our servant, but as our Creator, the One Whom has sent us a perfect human template, and it is through that template that God calls us to a life of service and self-sacrifice.

Change can often be misunderstood. There’s certainly a time to “let go and let God” but neither God nor the one whom He chose, Jesus, calls on us to abdicate all our responsibilities to God or to others – to become lazy, complacent Christians.

Instead, God and His chosen son, Jesus, both call on us to be active participants in the creation of a new world.

There’s definitely a time for letting go, and giving things a chance to work themselves out. There’s also a time to jump in and do all that we can to make good things happen. Knowing when to do either is the result of wisdom, and if we lack wisdom to know the difference, we should pray that God will grant us more wisdom so we can discern it. (James 1:5)

But taking a default “let go” attitude means that we’ve given up on the life God has gifted to us. It means that we believe God exists only to do all of our work for us, all of the Good Works that He expects US to do, as we bring in God’s Kingdom on this earth.

We are to be Jesus’ active hands and feet, serving others as Jesus perfectly modeled for us to do. Jesus called us to ACT, and he constantly moved from place to place urging people to do all that he did, and to feed, clothe, house and comfort one another.

Giving up and hoping that God will do all this FOR us is not what we are called to do as Jesus Followers. While some things are clearly out of our control, much of what occurs in our lives can be changed by our actions, and must be.

Let us put aside needless and pointless anxiety about what we cannot change. But let us have the courage to get up each day and simply do the Good Works we were called by God through His chosen one, Jesus, to do.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

#Jesus: Anointed And Sent Out To Preach #JesusFollowers

Jesus came into, and went out into, "the world," when, leaving the country around the Jordan River, he returned to Capernaum after the imprisonment of John, and began to teach in the synagogues and preach, saying, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

In general it is to be observed, that "to come into the world," do not ordinarily, if ever, in the language of the New Testament, signify to be born, but publicly to assume the character of a divinely-appointed teacher: and "to be sent" signifies to be invested by God with this position, and to be begin an active mission to support it. 

When this public mission came upon him, he says, "I came not of my own accord, but He [God] sent me." (John 8:42) And says, "The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve." (Matt. 20:28) These words cannot either with propriety or truth be referred to his entrance into life, for he did come at birth to serve others, and did not anoint himself to this mission, and certainly not as a baby.

Here he is proposing an example to his disciples, and appeals to the knowledge they had of his conduct among them, from his first entrance on his ministry at the age of 30.

He did not make disciples for his own sake, but for theirs; he came not out into towns of Judea to be served by them, but to serve them, and was hereafter to carry his services so far, as even to lay down his life in their behalf.

Jesus, speaking of himself, says, "him whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world." (John 10:36) He was first consecrated, when "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth," says Peter, "with the holy Spirit and with power," to go about doing good. (Acts 10:38)

At the baptism of Jesus, God was heard to say of Jesus, "you are my Beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." (Luke 3:22) And an old reading of this same verse reads, "You are my son, today I have begotten you [become your father]," echoing Psalm 2:7 (and Hebrews 1:5) Both versions testify to his anointing for his mission at his baptism.

Thus this man was set apart, consecrated to his office, and qualified to discharge it, and then was commissioned to go out into the world to execute this mission. According to our Master's own words, he "came into the world" only after his baptism, at which God's holy Spirit descended upon him, and not before.

Jesus, addressing himself to God, and speaking of his disciples, says, "As you have sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world." What is it that he here says of his disciples? How was it that he sent them into the world? 

After they had been fully instructed in things about to the kingdom of God, he sent them out unto all nations to preach to others the doctrine he had delivered to them.

When he says of himself, therefore, that God "sent him into the world," since he was sent by the Father, as they were sent by him, he speaks of the authority with which he was invested, of the command that had been given him to publish to the world the doctrine which he had himself received from the Father.

The spirit was not poured out on Jesus, he was not in vested with divine authority and power, thus qualified to execute the will of God and sent out into the world, to take vengeance on them for their sins; but to impart to them, at the expense of all worldly comforts, and, in the end, of life itself, the most consolatory and the most salutary doctrine, the belief and the obedience of which will entitle them unto eternal life.

Is it an advantage that such a great example should was held up to our imitation? Definitely. Would not any person, who aspires to perfect virtue, wish that a perfect model of it should be placed before them, to illustrate and recommend its maxims and its precepts, to guide and to encourage, to animate desires, to invigorate endeavors, and to excite emulation?

This advantage is enjoyed by us far more perfectly than could have been if our Master had not gone out into the world; for by this means his virtues are rendered more conspicuous, they are seen by us in a greater variety of lights, proved by a greater variety of difficulties and temptations, and his example is made applicable to a greater variety of circumstances and conditions.

We see what, if he had continued in obscurity, we could not have seen in him that our duty is in every instance practicable; that virtue is in every condition possible, and abounds with such comforts as can make any circumstances tolerable.

By this means we have the instructions, and encouragements, and incitements, that are contained in his example, who was in all points tempted as we are, and yet was without sin. We may be pure in heart, we may be holy in all manner of conversation; we may have the same mind that was in Jesus; we may walk as he also walked; we may be like God, and acceptable to him; ever growing in his likeness and his friendship. To what dignity, to what comforts of the Gospel of Jesus may we achieve! How good is God! How great a gift is Jesus!

(Adapted from the works of Newcombe Cappe, 1733-1800)

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Attainment And Use Of Gospel Knowledge #JesusFollowers

The Gospel of Jesus was certainly a plain doctrine at first, and in general readily and easily understood by those who heard it.

No one can doubt this who reads the accounts how and to whom it was preached by Jesus. Indeed, it is hard to believe that in a revelation of His will, intended for all humanity, the Almighty Being would fail to find a spokesman to speak clearly on his behalf, so that He would be understood by all.

Not that everything is so obvious and upon the surface, to offer itself to us without any thought or labor. It is not the way of the Almighty to easily bestow anything that is good or excellent upon his creatures.

Nor can we understand the Scriptures without taking the necessary pains, attending to the phrases and customs of the times in which our Master preached.

But by this exertion of ourselves, along with a sincere desire to become pious, wise, and good, we cannot fail to succeed. And we shall be let into all the Truth that is needful for our fulfilment.

It is a bad symptom in any person to see them indolently acquiesce in the principles of their faith without examining them, whether well or ill founded, and making their religion a series of thoughtless assents to forms and doctrines to which they have been accustomed, without any serious application to the practice of piety and virtue.

There is more hope for persons living in open vice coming to their right mind and being awakened to see their errors and be reformed, than those people.

There were men of this character from among the Jews and of the heathen world, who were satisfied with themselves that everything taught to them in their youth was right and true, and nothing further needed to be learned. They rejected without inquiry the teachings of Jesus, and to their utmost, they opposed his teachings.

And thus, all spiritual improvement for them was at an end.

Religion, divine truth, the way to please God, is not the objective of life to such persons. What was instilled into them when they were young was to ill-serve them throughout life.

They were always to remain children. But the Gospel exhorts us to a diligent and careful search after truth, and to grow in knowledge and all wisdom.

Not, indeed, to employ ourselves on barren useless speculations, merely to gratify our curiosity; but on such points that relate to a holy life and practice, and are of the utmost consequence to our true happiness.

We are to seek out: What directions God has given for our conduct, by whom it is that He has revealed himself to us, and what assistances He has taught us to look for in the way of our duty. Finally, we seek after what motives and promises God has laid before us to encourage us in it in all circumstances, to strengthen us against dangerous temptations, to calm and moderate our affections, to give comfort under the unavoidable ills and calamities of life, and carry us safely hereafter to some better state.

This is the knowledge to which Jesus invites us in his Gospel, in which we are to make advances, and surely, we would find much more knowledge to attain, if our lives were greatly extended.

A review of our own errors and recovery from them contributes a method to endear the truth to us, and to confirm us in it. In this way, our wise and good Creator give us a method to produce the greatest good out of the errors and mistakes into which we have fallen.

And although we may at times be involved in darkness and perplexity, and our progress will not always be as rapid and continual as we could wish; yet by an honest, persevering diligence we shall get further into the daylight, and see our way clearer before us. We shall discern greater tokens of divine wisdom in the words of Jesus.

And then we shall find fresh motives and encouragements to our duty, and be more and more animated in our task to overcome the world, and every obstacle that would divert us from the love of God and the obedience we owe to Him.

(Adapted from the sermons of Rev. Theophilus Lindsey, 1810)