Sunday, October 23, 2016

#Jesus, Our Teacher! #JesusFollowers

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. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Vain Words Cannot Save Our Souls #JesusFollowers

Uttering a few words expecting those words alone to actually accomplish something is the very definition of "vain words."

Just saying, "I'm more financially stable," or "I'm thinner," won't do anything without effort to make those goals happen, any more than saying "I'm college educated" can be true without actually attending college!

To "name and claim" something, is therefore a pointless exercise, especially when it's eternal life with God that's the object being sought.

Jesus repeatedly made it clear that we cannot take a short cut to either righteousness or eternal life. Nor should we seek gain from God for ourselves. This means material gain, of course, but it even goes deeper - deeper than modern Christians frequently dare to venture, because so many casually disregard Jesus' own teachings.

Jesus specifically said that those who seek to save their lives would lose their lives (Luke 17:33.) And that when we are standing before God, vain professions will have nothing to do with how we are judged worthy (Matt. 7:22) but our works alone will be how we are judged (Matt. 10:41; Matt. 16:27; Jer. 32:19.)

Why, then, is self-salvation by profession of our faith alone the entire focus of the modern Christian message?

Nearly the entire message of Jesus was focused on living righteously here on earth and serving others (Mark 10:43; Matt. 20:26.) But Christians focus entirely on individuals selfishly escaping from this world, which they degrade as TOTALLY fallen and corrupt - something Jesus never did.

Jesus calls us to a life of self-sacrifice, a life of Good Works, joyfully serving each other in the name of God's Kingdom, bringing it to fruition right here, and right now.

Jesus calls us to this kind of life not because he wants us to brag about being "children of the king" or claiming righteousness by proxy. Nor by tallying up our goodness and translating it into "points" that we can use to achieve Heaven.

Scoring and judging is up to Almighty God. We are simply called to play by His rules and let Him alone determine our worthiness.

We should also remember that Jesus' warning for us not to judge applies to our own eternal salvation, which is God's alone to give, not for us to demand, especially not with works-free faith, which amounts to spiritual shoplifting.

When we demand eternity from God - either by our vain words and vain, arrogant professions or by implying that we've "done enough" on this earth to earn it - we are failing to let God be our God, and are instead making God our servant.

In truth, Jesus calls on us to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23) and those who seek to be first should be the servant of all others (Mark 9:35.)

And if even Jesus didn't save himself from death on a cross by cleverly defending himself or by running away, why do some expect to save themselves with a few vain words, and running away from Good Works because they see them as "hard" or difficult?

Let us learn to therefore humble ourselves and deny ourselves before God, obeying Him and Jesus, the one He chose and adopted as His son, and sent out to be our example in all things.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Repentance And Reformation #JesusFollowers

Jesus did not propose or point out to us any new way to God's favor and eternal life, but on the contrary, he recommended that good old way which always was, and always will be the true way to life eternal; namely, keeping the commandments, or the loving God and our neighbor which is the same thing, and is the sum and substance of the moral law. (Matt. 19:17; 22:37-40)

This plain path-way to heaven lay neglected, and for the most part unfrequented; men both Jews and Gentiles having forsaken the fountain of living water, that is, the true way to life eternal; and shown to themselves cisterns - broken cisterns that can hold no water; that is, they had found out new and false ways of recommending themselves to God.

And this rendered our Savior's undertaking and ministry so much the more needful. And therefore it was truly said of him that he was to be not the maker, but the restorer, of right paths to dwell and walk in.

Jesus requires and recommends a conformity of mind and life to that unalterable rule of action which is founded in the reason of things as the only ground of divine acceptance, and as the only way to life eternal; so if men have lived in a violation of this righteous law by which they have rendered themselves displeasing to God, and worthy of His just resentment.

Secondly, Jesus requires and recommends repentance and reformation of their evil ways as the only ground of the divine mercy and forgiveness. The doctrine of repentance and remission of sin were what Jesus was chiefly concerned to announce to the world.

 "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:3)

As to the doctrine that Jesus has, by his sufferings and death, made satisfaction to God for the sins of the world, and thereby merited the sinners discharge from condemnation, this doctrine Jesus did not preach, and therefore it cannot be any part of his Gospel, but it is directly opposite to it, and tends to subvert it.

The true doctrines of the Gospel of our Master and Savior Jesus Christ concerning this matter are the doctrines of repentance and remission of sins; that is, repentance and reformation is the only way to the divine mercy.

"For if you forgive others their trespasses," says Jesus, "your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matt. 6:14-15)

Let not therefore the sinner trust nor rely upon the vain words of men, but let them trust and rely upon the words of our Master, Jesus, who was sent by God to be their guide and instructor in this particular, and who, they may be assured upon good grounds, will not deceive them.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Thomas Chubb)

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Being A Good Influence #JesusFollowers

James wrote: "Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death." (5:20.) There are many ways of being a good influence, and all of them should have our full attention.

The person who in any way lessens the sorrows and increases the happiness of another person, is to be regarded, so far as his good influence extends, as a benefactor.

But every kind of good influence can't be extended by everyone. The poor person can't build up by public taxes the institutions of learning and of charity. Those without education can’t yet enrich others with treasures of wisdom that they don’t yet possess.

But every class of people, in their work and where they live, can contribute their good influence, whether it's small or great, to increase the amount of human happiness in the world. 

Yet what is human happiness, if it's measured only by the span of our earthly existence? It has many sorrows, and soon passes away. Our distress and joy only last a short time here in this life.

But it’s the duty, and it ought to be a part of the happiness of our lives, to exert what influence we can to make the journey of life pleasant to our fellow travelers. 

And of course extending our comfort and charity to others to heal their souls – the part that extends past this narrow existence on earth – is our highest dignity. However humble we are, we can be that kind of influence.

We call "sinners" those who live without any reference to God; or to the sacred principles of virtue and religion. 

These are people who have never determined for themselves that they’ll serve our Creator or the one He chose to be our example, Jesus. They act influenced by motives which belong mostly to the present life, and they neglect the solemn consideration, that they will stand before the judgment seat of God, and that their eternal happiness is intimately connected with the habits they’re forming now.

They don’t consider the love of God as a powerful feeling of the soul; and the teachings of Jesus aren’t regarded by them as a rule of action that allows for no exceptions or excuses. In a word, the sinner is one who’s formed no fixed ideas about serving God, and they have no intention of doing it!

To convert a sinner, then, is to turn them from the practice of this neglect towards the love and practice of holiness, as taught by our Master.

It means having a positive influence that will dry up many of the sources of misery, to spread happiness, and even reaches forward into the eternal world, filling the soul with joy, so long as our souls exist.

I call upon you in the name of Jesus to engage in this work. You are surrounded by those who are strangers to faith and hope. Will you make no effort to direct their influence to the good, to resist the moral chaos which rages around you?

It's by gentleness, by kindness, by a genuine love, by patience and perseverance, that we are to succeed in this work of goodness. Your virtuous purity, submission, obedience and joy must speak for you in the cause which you wish to advocate.

To attempt this is the most generous work in which we can be involved; to do this is to save a soul. That’s something worth attempting! And if we do this in a spirit of love, we won’t labor in vain!

(Adapted from a sermon by Nathan Parker, 1831)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

#Jesus: Fully and Completely Human, Like Us #JesusFollowers

What happens if Jesus was actually "just" a human being? What if Jesus was conceived and born exactly as we were, and was fully and completely human, just like us? The implications are startling for how we view our faith in God, and in a very good way.

Those who walked with him during his ministry knew very well that Jesus got hungry, got angry, got tired, slept, wept, bled, and prayed to God, just like they did. They knew him as a boy, they saw him gain knowledge, and grow from a baby into a man. In fact, this is the picture that manages to come through even in the Gospels as they have come down to us.

So, if this was the view of the earliest followers of Jesus, what happens when we, too, view Jesus as our elder brother - a fellow human being, fully and completely human, like us?

Something wonderful happens! With centuries of human inventions swept away, Jesus' teachings become fresh, alive and challenging, just as when he presented them the first time to astonished and joyful crowds.

With a completely human Jesus, the Gospel is a glorious set of challenges to accomplish. Jesus no longer preaches DOWN to us, knowing we cannot obey his lofty teachings that only a God-man can follow.

We must obey God’s moral Laws, and seek to follow Jesus in ALL of his teachings – because Jesus was able to follow God in all things, and said we could do all that he had done.

If we don't believe this is true, or think it's impossible, then we need to stop following him, because we are liars, not Jesus Followers. (1 John 2:4-6)

The Apostles said that God chose this fully and completely human Jesus (Acts 2:22) from among us human beings to be our example. And when Jesus said we may follow him, we know that we are able.

As a "mere" human being, Jesus' teachings become something amazing. His full and complete humanity becomes our FULL pattern of life, because he followed all he tells us God requires of us, and calls on us to do exactly the same. If we cannot do this, then Jesus was a liar when he says he did all God asked of him.

But he was just not lying, of course. His life and teachings show that he was honest about his relationship with God, and that this is the relationship we are ALSO meant to have with our Creator.

In short, the goals Jesus set for us only make sense if they are achievable BY us. And they are achievable only if he was fully and completely human, as we are.

When Jesus is viewed as fully and completely human, we accept as truth that God chose him from among humanity to be our example. And when he said we may follow him, we know that we are able.

God knows our spirit before we are born. He has always been fully aware of what we are capable, and in what ways we are weak. He didn't need to pretend to be human to do this. He is all-knowing, and all-seeing, and chose this perfectly obedient human being to be our example.

Jesus, who, as a man, was faithful to God in all things, assures us that we can do all that he did. (John 13:15; 14:12) Because Jesus followed God not with his lips alone but with his acts and with his heart, we need never fear acting as he did, letting our humble Works define our Faith.

When Jesus says "Take up your cross daily and follow me," he's calling us on a journey of joyful suffering and service, just as he embarked upon. 

But if we do not follow his words, we are not really following Jesus. If we make excuses for not obeying his call to us, we are not worthy of his name. This fully and completely human Jesus is meant to be followed, not just admired.

“If you love me, keep my commands,” he says (John 14:15) But If we claim to know and love him, but reject his teachings, we are liars, unfit for his name. (1 John 2:4)

The fully human Jesus doesn't set impossible goals for the rest of us. If a human being just like us calls us to be perfect, "just as your Father in Heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48) and he, himself achieved it, then that is a challenge worthy of human beings.

We lose our excuses for sinning with a fully, completely human Jesus. We can no longer say we are "only human," hiding behind our alleged inherited moral sinfulness, if Jesus, too, was born as we were, and yet found favor with God. We can no longer hide behind our alleged human frailty, we cannot blame others or our supposed genetic inability, and we can't say that sinning is our "nature," if Jesus shared that nature with us, fully and completely.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

THE SERMON OF SERMONS – Using Our God-Given Salt #JesusFollowers

Jesus said: "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:13-16)  (ESV)
We are called by Jesus to be salt and light – salting the earth with goodness and enlightening it with righteous deeds But if our salt has become tasteless, what then? What if we act without righteousness, or are so infrequent in our Good Deeds, that having they become pointless? Worse, what if we simply ignore Jesus’ call, because we have come to believe that this salt and light are unnecessary, never to be used at all in our lives?

Jesus spoke to challenge us and calls us today to be examples in his name. As God’s chosen Prophet and Spokesman, Jesus authoritatively calls us to take up his challenge and to follow his example. 

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, our Creator.

Coming in the middle of Jesus’ powerful Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew, this is a clear and unambiguous call for us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world – letting our light shine before others.

It’s vital to understand that Jesus believes we are capable of doing Good Works for others in his name. In fact, he says we MUST seek to do these Good Works, if we claim to be his followers and wish to still call him “Master.” Some have denied this is necessary, but to deny what Jesus clearly says makes his call meaningless, and the salt worthless.

We've been given the gifts of salt – among them, the gifts of Jesus’ holy example and our God-given ability to choose righteousness over wickedness. But if we allow those gifts to become stale, either by throwing them on the ground to be trampled or pretend that we lack the ability to use them to do Good, then we've failed.

We've been given gifts of light – among them, Jesus’ teachings and our God-given ability of reason and knowledge. But is we convince ourselves that using them to serve others is unnecessary, or convince ourselves that Good Works are merely OPTIONAL things we do if we feel like it – then we make the Good and Beneficial Message (Gospel) of Jesus into a mockery.

Clearly, Jesus calls us to do good and great things to glorify God, our Heavenly Father, and as a fully human man himself, he has shown us that we, as human beings, are fully able to do great things on behalf of others. Let there, then, be no excuse to hide our gifts! 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

When The World Crashes Down Around Us #JesusFollowers

On this, the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, when the world seemed to come apart, we pause and reflect on just how fragile we, and our world, seems to be.

When the world crashes down around us, we look to God, and we look to each other, for comfort and strength. And this is just as it should be.

God assures us that He will grant us comfort, strength and peace in times of tragedy and times of struggle and pain. Many turn in difficult times to the comfort of the Twenty-third Psalm, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

Also they turn also to Isaiah: “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)

Jesus assures us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4)

And just like the entire world in which we all live, the individual world in which we live is in danger all the time of crashing down around us.

A lost job; a car accident; a natural disaster; the loss of a spouse, a child or a parent; the sudden end of a relationship, an unexpected terminal illness, all of these can put us in a place of pain and anguish.

These and many more can become our personal Nine-Elevens - far less devastating on a national scale, for sure, but personally and closely devastating nonetheless.

How do we get through our tragedies? With the help of others, and with the help of God.

We are often shaken and damaged by our circumstances, and our reaction to our struggles, frankly, is often to retreat inside ourselves and hide.

Our spirits were made by our Creator to comfort others, and to also seek the comfort of others in our time of need.

We are called to be the light of the world, and in times of trouble, we demonstrate that light.

On 9/11, rescue workers, ministers, and the people of New York City rushed in to help those hurt and those whose families had died in the attack, many putting their safety and even their long-term health in harm's way for others.

Jesus says that there is no greater love than to give one’s life for his friends, and we are his friends if we do what he calls us to do. (John 15:13)

The firemen and police officers who risked their lives to enter the Twin Towers that fateful day to attempt to save others were surely the friends of Jesus. They were literally the light that guided many to safety, before losing their own lives.

There are some who raised their fists to the sky that day, and on many days since, and said, “Why, God? Why are YOU doing this to US?” But they miss the point. God, and God’s chosen spokesman, Jesus, calls us to be HIS hands, HIS loving arms, and HIS sympathetic tears here on this earth.

God is not in the destruction, but in the healing after it. He is not in the storm, assures the psalmist, but in the "small, still voice" following the storm. (1 Kings 19:12)

Jesus assures us that God is our Father, who loves us so much that he chose Jesus and sent him out to preach a Good and Beneficial Message (Gospel) throughout the world. (John 3:16; Luke 4:43)

Whenever we comfort the afflicted, clothe the naked, give shelter to the homeless, and comfort those in need after a tragedy, we are comforting Jesus himself, and we are acting as God wishes us to act. (Matt. 25:40)

Let us be the light in times of darkness that Jesus calls us to be.