Sunday, June 6, 2021

We Are Here To Do Great Things! #JesusFollowers

 

Why are we here on the earth? What is our purpose in this life? For millions, these questions haunt their existence and trouble their souls. But there is a Way we can follow that answers these questions. For those who call Jesus their Master, and seek to follow him and his path, the answers come easier.

WHAT should we do with our lives? Jesus tells us that we're here to love God and love others, and serve God and serve others.

Jesus said we should seek to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit those in prison, and comfort the widow and orphan. (Matt. 25)

HOW do we do this? We can begin by doing it by committing ourselves and then... by starting to do what God calls us to do through His chosen Son, Jesus. By Repenting - committing to that kind of change, and asking God for forgiveness for past misdeeds and lack of love we've shown - that starts this process.

This isn't a throw away line, and this LOVE - Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves - isn't the same weak "love" we use to tell others that we "love" chocolate, or salsa. It's a deep, complicated love, and it will take a lifetime to perfect.

A final question is CAN we do this? This level of service and love, for some, doesn't come easy. But we can be assured that we have the ability within us to do what is right and what is good because God says we can do it, and created us with the ability to do all that He asks of us.

We can find verification of God's expectations for humanity by looking to the Hebrew Scriptures.

God told Adam, the proverbial first man, that he could do what was right. He later told Adam's son, Cain, that he could do what was right, too, if he chose to do so.

Both Adam and Cain had the inborn freedom to choose. The fact that in these cases they both chose to do what was wrong with their choice means they, alone, were punished for it.

Perhaps that is why these stories were included in the Hebrew Bible, so we would know that we had a true choice.

In Deuteronomy, we learn that God assures human beings that His commandments are, "not too hard for you," and that God's moral law is "is in your mouth and in your heart, SO THAT YOU CAN DO IT." (Deut. 30:11, 14) Isaiah writes, "Wash yourselves, make yourself clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do well." (1:16)

Isaiah also has no doubt that human beings can, "cease to do evil, and learn to do good."

And many have read the verse in Joshua, in which he says, "choose this day whom you will serve," (Joshua 24:15) The choice remains with us to choose to serve God.

Jesus is completely consistent with the Hebrew Bible in his belief in our ability to do what God asks.

Our Teacher and Master said he did all things that pleased God (John 8:28). He also said we could do all that he did, telling us that we are to be "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (John 14:12, Matt. 5:48)

If we need courage and encouragement to serve others, we should start by reflecting on the gifts we've been given by God, our Creator, including the inspiring, perfect moral life of Jesus, and seek to follow that path perfectly, seeking God's forgiveness when we stumble.

Jesus taught that if we call him our Master, we must seek to follow him, doing all that he had done. (John 13:15; 1 John 2:4-6) Based on his teachings, we definitely have the ability to do great good, if we choose to take up his path and seek to do Righteousness, as he did. It's the choosing that can be hard sometimes, and we will stumble in our efforts, but that does not diminish our ability to do the good, which is God-given.

Just as Jesus frequently did, we may call upon God in prayer for further strength, and be assured that we may obtain it. As James, his brother, wrote, we can always seek greater wisdom from God. (James 1:5)

So, Jesus said we were able to do what was right. He believed that God gave us the ability to stand tall before Him, with willing hands to serve others and bring forth God's Kingdom here on earth.

It only remains for us to pick up the challenge Jesus lays down for us, and begin doing good in his name.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Let's Not Be Unjust Stewards #JesusFollowers

 


The Parable of the Unjust Steward is an exceedingly instructive parable, and is applicable to every one of us. 

A large landowner had a steward whom he detected was wasting his property and taking his money. He therefore resolved to deprive him of his office and dismiss him. So he called him and told him to bring his books to him, so he could see how matters stood.

The steward was a cunning man, with no moral principles, and since he was too lazy to work, and he knew that he had no chance of getting another person to employ him as steward, he devised a plan. He'd make his master's tenants be indebted to him, so that, when he was fired, they'd let him stay in their houses.

Acting on this plan, he gave the first tenant, a grower of olives, a great deal on the rent owed to the steward's master. Then he gave another great deal to a second tenant, who grew wheat on land owned by the steward's master.

He did the same with all the other tenants, giving them new leases at a value greatly below what the several farms were worth.

As the steward did all this while he was still acting as steward, and his acts were binding on his employer. His master, therefore, though he felt convinced that these leases were all fraudulent, but it would be difficult to prove they were fraudulent.

Though the steward increased the scorn and anger of his master, he gained the friendship of all the tenants; indeed, he made them his servants.

When the steward was thrown out of his master's house, these tenants let him stay with them, in their houses, and kept him all the days of his life. 

Our Master teaches us that we are not to imitate the unjust steward in his dishonesty. Jesus shows how necessary it is for us to be faithful and  honest if we wish to enter into heaven.

"One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?" (Luke 16:10-12)

He tells us that the person who is faithful in little things will also be faithful in great; and that a person who acts dishonestly with regard to the affairs of this life, will act in the same dishonest and unfaithful way with regard to the heavenly riches.

When we read Jesus' parables we're likely to think they don't apply to us. We flatter ourselves. When we look at the parable a little closer we might see that we stand convicted of doing more or less the very same as this unjust steward.

Every one of us, like this steward, has taken something which isn't our own, but belongs to his Eternal Master. Our life, our strength, our time, our talents, our goods, our money,  are not our own, but God's. He entrusted each of these to us, so we might be faithful stewards of each. Let us each ask ourselves the question: Have we have faithfully used all of these?

Do we bring ourselves under the same condemnation pronounced against the unjust man in the parable? He has been unfaithful in that which was another's, and God will therefore not let him get what might have been his own - even eternal life.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. James Stark, 1866)

Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Piety and Example of #Jesus. #JesusFollowers

The effectiveness of teaching by example has always been known. In order to have the right notions of our duty, it is important not only that principles be laid down for our direction, but that we are shown how they’re to be applied to our character and conduct.

And when an example is presented in a light which interests, there will be awakened an involuntary feeling of emulation, a desire of resembling the character which we are taught to admire and love.

In this view, the life of our savior, Jesus, is the key part of the moral system of the Gospel. He came to be the example as well as the teacher of human beings. In order to become this, it was necessary that he should be placed in situations like ours; that, bearing the infirmities of our nature, encompassed by our needs, and exposed to our temptations, he might mark out by his own conduct the course in which we should all walk through trial, difficulty, and danger.

And his condition in the world was indeed like that of a common man, though it was one of extreme exposure and suffering. We may follow him like a brother in frailty, and danger, and trouble, from the manger where his infancy was laid, to the tomb where he slept to be troubled no more.

He was tried like us, by hunger and thirst, and then by festivals and feasts. He was persecuted by enemies, then surrounded by affectionate friends. Sometimes he was insulted and reviled, sometimes was received with shouts of joy, and eagerly followed by multitudes who would raise him to earthly power.

Same in nature, though not in degree, with those of our life; like these are the occasions on which we are commonly called to show the strength of our regard to God, and the sincerity of our dispositions to serve him. While our situations of trial distantly resemble his, the way in which our savior lived presents a pattern for our imitation this is both perfect and attainable.

This view of Jesus’ character, as one of common life, as one which we may imitate and resemble is important. I hope, that by dwelling on a few of the modes in which his piety expressed itself, we may better know our own duties.

The first thing to be noticed in respect to his piety is his devotional frame of mind. It marked all of his conversations; it was in the feeling way in which he spoke about God; and the way in which he spoke with all around him.

In the second place, his piety was shown by his referring all his own powers to the Father, and considering all as derived from Him.

He continually assures us that he "came not of himself," and that “the Father sent him;" thus attributing all his benefits to God. He particularly attributes all the parts of his moral system to God.

If he speaks of the religion of mercy which he had come to dispense, he points us to God as its author. “The words which I speak, I speak not of myself; ” and "my doctrine is not mine, but His Who sent me;" and “as the Father hath taught me, I speak these things.”

The same feeling of dependence, the same grateful sense of God's goodness, we ought to exercise. All our blessings, like all his, flow from God. As God invested Jesus with all powers necessary for his undertaking, so He has given to us all the ability which we need to accomplish the work given us to do.

We see the piety of our savior when he seeks the direction and aid of God, when occasions of great importance occurred. The night before his disciples were chosen, he was in prayer. And it was natural, therefore, that before he selected them, he should commend the interests of his religion to God.

Finally, the piety of our savior was greatly shown in his sufferings. You cannot fail to remember the meekness with which he bore so many insults, the patience with which he endured the severest pains, the submission with which he passed through agony and death.

Sufferings come to us all, though they may be small when compared with his. There are disappointments which will destroy our best laid plans, there are pains and sickness to be endured, friends that we lose, and of course, a final hour of agony to be passed through. We should now prepare for these trials by acquiring a spirit of piety; by forming our hearts to the love of God; and by maintaining a humble and affectionate trust in his wisdom and paternal goodness.

It was such an attitude as this which sustained our savior in the hours of his agony, and it is only such a spirit which can sustain us, when diseased, forsaken, or dying. 

And it will not merely sustain us in this world; for it is this attitude of piety, with the practical habits that arise from it, which will make us ready for a world which suffering and death never enter.

(Adapted from a collection of sermons by Rev. John Emery Abbot, 1829)


Sunday, May 9, 2021

"And I Will Give You Rest" #JesusFollowers

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)

To come unto Jesus is to believe in his Divinely appointed mission and Authority; to believe in his promises, and to make use of such assistance as his religion offers. 

By giving rest is meant, either deliverance from the sorrows which before afflicted us, or the aid of such encouragements and motives to bear them, that the pain and weight which before distressed might be lightened, and ease of mind take place of former disturbance; and that it is our object, to show what these encouragements and motives are, and what is the nature of the relief which his religion may be expected to give.

The burdens under which we labor, from which the Gospel may be expected to relieve, are chiefly those of a moral nature, arising from a consciousness of guilt, and fear of the Divine displeasure; from a sense of the dominion and power of sin, the prevalence of temptation, and the strength of evil habits; or from a sense of the weakness of already-formed resolutions, and the too frequent defects in our duty.

Some persons who are yet awakened to a sense of sin are still oppressed with the weighty burden of moral uneasiness and distress from the dominion and power of sin, the prevalence of temptations, and the strength of their vicious habits.

When the eyes are opened to a conviction of guilt, and liableness to the righteous judgments of God, Conscience then begins to be uneasy at the view of the present tyranny and absolute possession which sin retains over it. It then begins to feel the truth of our Savior's words (John 8:34) “Whosoever commits sin " (that is, habitually) the same is the servant, or slave, of sin." 

We know that God has declared that He will reject all who continue to sin, and though we are taught to hope that He will forgive sins that are past, it is only on our sincere repentance; and no repentance can be admitted as sincere, which is not followed by newness of life.

As, then, we cherish any hopes of the mercy, acceptance, and favor of God, we must necessarily see all the reason in the world to be uneasy at the continuance of the power and dominion of sin in ourselves; because it puts an effectual bar in the way of all our hopes, both of the pardon of sins past, and of the final acceptance of God.  

Let us then enquire what means Jesus has provided to deliver those from the dominion and power of sin, who come unto him, by a steady faith in his Divine Mission, and an attitude to submit to his authority and government.

First, His holy laws give us a clear and full view both of sin and duty; they leave us at no uncertainty concerning either the one or the other. They represent sin in all its odiousness and deformity, and duty in all its genuine beauty and loveliness.

And it must be obvious how great a help it is towards a right conduct, to have a clear knowledge of what is right and wrong - and that it is a happy step towards a recovery from what is evil, to have a knowledge of what is evil, and conviction of the happiness of what is good.

Jesus did not fail to give us light and instruction. So let not us fail ourselves by not making use of his assistance to turn from away from darkness and towards God. Let's fortify ourselves with all those holy doctrines and precepts which are particularly levelled against those sins which most easily afflict us.

The religion of Jesus furnishes us with many ways to assist us to overcome the dominion and power of sin. The chief cause of the prevalence of temptation, and the support of the dominion of sin, is the neglect of cultivating the habit of reflection, and patient serious consideration. We are not lacking sufficient light to inform us of moral evil, or of motives to dissuade us from the commission of it.

The Gospel furnishes us with both in great abundance. Jesus has offered to us every instruction and every motive calculated to produce the most desirable effects. There lacks nothing but our own attention and sincere belief.

He assures us that God has now established His own Kingdom among us, and calls us to be subjects of it; that the goal of this Kingdom is to make us a holy people.

That though He has promised the pardon of sin to the penitent, yet this by no means encourages us to continue in sin, but that, on the contrary, the mercy of God is of no use unless it leads us to repentance and a new life.

Let us, therefore, come to Jesus by a diligent inquiry into his precepts: let us cultivate a teachable attitude; and with it, diligently search his will.

Let his word be the subject of our frequent enquiry, and let it dwell in us by frequent recollection and meditation. Let us by this means get his laws written, not only on the leaves of our Bibles, but on our memories, and the tables of our hearts; that we may always have them at hand on every emergency, to be able to confront every temptation with an appropriate command of Jesus.

(Adapted from a the collected sermons of Rev. William Turner, Jr., 1839)

Sunday, May 2, 2021

When You Pray. #JesusFollowers


 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Matt. 6:7-8)

The reasonableness of our worship, and of prayer to God, prompts us most naturally to look to Him Who made us, in the fitness of acknowledging His continual favors, and the assurance we have that He is present with us.

God attends to and directs those who seek to recommend themselves to Him in the best way they are able.

The power, wisdom and goodness displayed in bringing us into being, and the various ways and methods to make it happy to us, are a just foundation for this our application to our Maker.

Nor can He ever be absent from us, so as not to hear and attend to us. For the same divine energy by which he first made us and all nature is necessary to support us in being. We cannot divest ourselves of the idea that His continual presence is with us.

We need never fear our being overlooked or disregarded by God. Our attention indeed can only be fixed on one object at once, and we are soon disturbed and perplexed with a multiplicity of affairs. But, as the sacred writer speaks, “Yahweh’s eyes are everywhere, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” (Prov. 15:3)

These natural grounds of the duty of prayer and thanksgiving to God appear plain and obvious, and afford much satisfaction to the pious mind.

Nevertheless it is a great privilege, that we have the express encouragement from God to offer up our prayers to Him, which He has given us by holy men, His prophets; and last of all by our Savior, Jesus.

And in that part of our Master’s sermon which is before us, he is giving some cautions to his followers concerning this duty, and directing them how to perform it in the way most acceptable to God and useful to themselves.

After severely condemning many in those days, who, by their holy outward appearance of great devotion, sought to impose on the world that they were better and more to be trusted than others, to serve their private ends of gain and ambition.

Jesus’ words are a caution to those who thought they were religious because of the frequency and length of their prayers, or who thought so poorly of their Maker, as if He, the all-knowing God, needed to be told often about their needs, as if He had forgotten them!

Our prayers and thanks to Him are not needed for any information or satisfaction that He can derive from them, they are in the highest degree serviceable to ourselves, and therefore are fitly and most kindly enjoined by Him who seeks our good.

Everything in us, good or bad, is the effect of habit. To keep up a due sense of God, it is necessary to think of Him frequently, to bring Him, His goodness, His greatness, freshly to our minds. And this is done most effectually in prayer, which puts us into His presence.

To pray with any degree of fervor or earnestness, one must have some persuasion that it will be of service to him to procure what he prays for.

The Scriptures therefore uniformly represent Almighty God as listening to the prayers of human beings, and disposed to bestow upon them everything they ask that is good for them.

However, as we ourselves are creatures so shortsighted and unknowing what might be good for us, and our heavenly Father, who is ever most kindly disposed toward us, as our Master here tells us, knows what things we have need of before we ask him, we should never pray for anything but only so far as His wisdom may see it best for us.

The great subject of our prayers to God undoubtedly ought always to be for our virtuous improvement, and to be assisted to do his will in all things, and that we may be assisted in watching over ourselves where we are most likely to fall; giving us such a great love of wisdom and goodness it will keep us above the narrow gratifications of our appetites and every unlawful desire, and make all the temptations of the world lose their power over us.

The great end of prayer is to bring us to live under a habitual sense of the divine presence, with which it will be impossible for any to live or continue in any known evil or dishonest practice.

Far from interrupting or taking us away from our worldly pursuits, prayer furnishes us with a greater ability to go through the necessary duties of life, and spread continual comfort, cheerfulness, and joy all around us.

 (Adapted from a sermon by Theophilus Lindsey, given in March, 1778)

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Gospel Of #Jesus Is A Challenge To Serve Others #JesusFollowers


In his ministry, Jesus challenged all those around him.

He challenged the religious authorities who led a faith of empty ritual and mindless words to instead embrace an authentic faith of love and devotion.

He challenged the wealthy to give up the idol of money.

He challenged those who would exclude the weak, the poor, the “outcast” and the outsider to be fully inclusive, because God loves all people equally. (Luke 4:12-13)

And Jesus challenged average people to “come, follow me,” and change the world with their works of Righteousness. (Matt. 4:19)

Jesus’ teachings, when seen as the core of his ministry, challenge us today, as well.

In fact, the Good News that Jesus preached is nothing but a challenge to our comfortable lives. It challenges the lazy faith which is based on mere words and devoid of love of others or Good Works on their behalf.

It’s a challenge to us all, individually, to begin to reach our full potential, by living the way God wishes us to live – lives of selfless service and love.

The words, life, teachings and death of our Master, Jesus, challenge us to do, to act, to follow, to serve, to be better, to do more, to try harder, to be humble, yet Righteousness, to serve God not money, to lose ourselves, but gain eternity.

Jesus preached to challenge us, and calls us today to live as examples in his name. As God’s chosen Spokesman, Jesus authoritatively calls us to take up his challenge and to follow his example.  (John 13:15; 14:12)

We are called by Jesus to seek and do Good, in order to advance God’s Kingdom on this earth.

Jesus lived, taught and died as a pure moral example for us, so that we should follow him and be made perfect in Righteousness. We do this with God’s help and a reliance on God’s holy Spirit.

And we are required, on this journey of Faith, to always seek God's forgiveness for our faults and failures as we strive towards the perfect expression of Righteousness God's Anointed Son, Jesus, has modeled for us.

We must seek to follow Jesus in ALL his teachings – because Jesus followed God in ALL things, and said we could do all that he had done. (John 8:29; 12:50; 13:15; 1 John 2:6)

We are called to show by our ACTS that we are heeding his call, and are taking up his challenge – not in a prideful way, but in a way that is pleasing to God.

Jesus clearly calls us to an active Faith - a Faith that Works. His teachings, his Gospel, is a challenge worth accepting and worth LIVING, because it leads to directly to a spiritually complete life and, God willing, to eternal life with our Creator.

Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30.) That’s complete and total love, not just lip service or weak emotionalism.

Jesus calls us to love each other, our neighbors, with the same zeal with which we love God – a complete and total love. (Mark 12:31)

Jesus calls us to deny ourselves take up our cross and follow him. (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23.) We are to be “other-centered,” not focused on Self.

Jesus calls on us to do the will of the Father – His God and our God, the Creator of all that is. (Matt. 12:50; John 5:30) Mere words and vain professions are NOT enough to ensure eternity with God (Matt. 7:21.)

Jesus calls on us to forgive others, and makes this duty a condition of being forgiven by God (Matt. 6:15-16.)

Jesus calls on us to let our Good Deeds shine like lights in this world, so that others will see by that light the goodness and love of our Father and Creator, which He has placed within us all. (Matt. 5:15-16)

And Jesus calls on us to “go the second mile” (Matthew 5:38–42) which is not a challenge to be lukewarm or partially committed to serving others.

When we encounter what is being claimed to be “the Gospel,” if it fails to challenge us to pursue Good Works, we know that it's a false and easy Faith we've encountered – a wide gate, rather than the Gospel preached from the very mouth of Jesus.

That Jesus challenges us with incredibly high goals is undeniable. That he believed we could achieve them is proven by his words. And because Jesus, a human being like us, has done this, we are assured that we, too, may accomplish God’s will for our lives.

So let’s take up the Good News of Jesus’ challenge in our lives and let it shine within us for all to see!


Sunday, April 18, 2021

What Did #Jesus Teach About Using Wealth Wisely? [#JesusFollowers]



Jesus never lost an opportunity to teach a moral lesson; so he illustrated the subject of riches with a parable.

A certain rich man's ground brought forth such abundant crops, that he could only get them safely housed by pulling down all his old barns and building larger ones.

When this was done, and he saw his large stores which would provide for every contingency for many years, he resolved to begin to enjoy himself. He had now succeeded in attaining that for which he had labored many years, and for which he had likely denied himself every luxury, and had perhaps also oppressed the laboring poor who worked under him.

He had lived until then as if this world were all there is, and there was no hereafter, as if this world and its goods were for him alone, and as if he had no interest in the distresses of his neighbors, whom his helping hand might perhaps have saved.

Little did he know he was not to live to enjoy those accumulated stores; for God gave forth the fiat, "This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" (Luke 12:20)

This parable had a double reference. It not only strongly illustrated the folly of being covetous of worldly riches, seeing we might never be spared to enjoy them; but it also served as the connecting link between what he had previously said as to men being only able to kill the body, while God was able to punish the soul in hell-fires, and what he immediately discoursed on afterwards, namely, the necessity of providing for the future life more even than for this.

Our Savior's conclusion, therefore, to this parable, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God," (Luke 12:21) naturally led him to discourse on the necessity of seeking first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, when all things we have need of here will be added to us.

Some men's love for riches is such, that they will leave no means untried to gain them, however dishonorable these means may be. These men, therefore, forsake the paths of honesty, and ruin their own souls to secure that perishing dust which they cannot carry with them out of this world.

Riches render such men proud and uncharitable, and shut out every holy feeling. They think their riches can buy everything, but it can neither purchase the favor of God nor the respect of their fellow-men.

How true, then, was the saying of Jesus regarding such men, “ “How difficult it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!" (Luke 18:24) And the reason for this is fully apparent; for "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:34)

If, therefore, your treasure is on earth, and is composed of earthly things, earthly thoughts alone will occupy your mind, and leave no time, no thought, no leisure for God or heavenly things.

Our Father in heaven is a merciful and gracious God; but he is also just, and shall reward every man according to his works. (Psalm 62:12) 

It is therefore every person's duty and interest to live in preparation for eternity, as we do not know how soon our lives shall end. No one is sure of their life even for a day. The thousand accidents that may cut us off, we see exemplified in our friends and brethren around us. Those whom we saw in full vigor in the morning, are often seen cut off before the evening.

God will judge the world.

That is a momentous subject to us all, and is one on which we ought to have clear notions, or else we might commit the most egregious of blunders, and deceive ourselves with the belief that it is all well with us, when we are in reality slaves to evildoing.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. James Stark 1810-1890)