Sunday, March 29, 2015

Walking And Doing #JesusFollowers

Does God wish us to live lives of disobedience and lawlessness, proclaiming His Name, Yahweh, with our lips, but our hearts remaining far from Him?

Will God reward with eternal life those who disobey and ignore His moral statutes and the one He sent to proclaim and live them, Jesus?

If the Hebrew Scriptures and teachings of Jesus are right, it's easy to believe that God wishes us to not only pledge, but actually DO the Good Works Jesus said God wants us to perform every minute of every day upon this earth.

Jesus tells us that God doesn't want our empty words - vain cries of God's name, or the name of his chosen one, Jesus.

Jesus said, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." (Mark 7:6; Isaiah 29:13.)

God doesn't want a human or animal sacrifice that "stands in for" and excuses our past and future failings.

God seeks only a humble spirit and a repentant heart (Psalm 51:17.)

He wants our joyful, enthusiastic love and this same love given to others, which leads to God's Kingdom here and now upon the earth, and to our eternal salvation.

Jesus teaches it is the one who DOES the will of the Father who is worthy of the Kingdom to which we are called to build, and to eternal life (Matt.  7:21-23).

And Jesus told us that only the one who does righteousness is righteous. No other is entitled to call themselves "righteous."

Simply professing our belief that Jesus actually lived and died, then went back to God, is a cold and sterile faith - a faith of bare facts and mere words, perhaps genuinely felt ones, and perhaps ones spoken with great emotion - but empty words, nonetheless.

Mere words, without accompanying them with active Good Works, is not enough (James 2:19.) Obeying God’s chosen spokesman, Jesus (John 8:51; 14:23) and wisely remaining true to his teachings and following them (Matthew 7:24; John 8:31) is what is required of us.

As John rightly says, if we say we love Jesus, but do not actively serve others, we are liars and our faith is a lie. (1 John 2:6.) Jesus clearly says that "anyone who loves me will obey my teachings." (John 14:23.)

Honest Jesus Followers, therefore, will seek to walk just as he walked.

We will seek other's needs above our own.

We will seek heavenly treasure above earthly treasure.

We will actively seek to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, house the homeless, and care for widows, orphans and others needing our love.

We will pray for our enemies, and return love for their hatred.

We will actively do Good Works as an example to others, but humbly, not just to receive praise from them.

In short, we will joyfully take his yoke of obedience upon us daily.

This is the path of the Narrow Gate, and not the wide path of belief divorced from action (Matt. 7:13-14.)

If we truly believe Jesus' actions and teachings represent the perfect way God wishes US to live, how can we do anything other than to model

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Finding Rest in Our Work #JesusFollowers

King David, the Psalmist, pleads with God, asking, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” (Psalms 55:6)

David shows his common humanity with us all, in this confession of a longing to escape, by change of place and circumstances, from his troubles, and which made peace and contentment almost impossible. 

He was living in the midst of anxieties; the voices of enemies filled his ears; the oppression of the wicked shocked his eyes. Fearfulness and trembling possessed him, as he witnessed the violence and strife of the city, from whose streets deceit and guile departed not. 

Betrayed by his own friends and acquaintance and those he had selected for his guides, by those with whom he had taken sweet counsel and walked unto the house of God in company, his courage temporarily failed him, and he longed to escape from these painful and overwhelming trials.

His real thoughts were not those which our reverence for his station and character have usually interpreted these words to carry. 

It was not up into the unseen world, where God and angels dwell, that David would then have used his wings to carry him. For in the very next verse he explains himself, and says, "I would flee far away and stay in the desert.” David is seeking an escape from the world. 

Suppose God, in answer to his prayer, had given the man after his own heart the wings he desired, and, mounting upon them, David had flown into the loneliest and quietest seclusion.

But in truth, there is no rest in anything but wholesome action; no peace in anything but systematic employment and use of all our powers in the service of the human race, which is the service of our God.

This truth is avouched equally by common sense and observation, and by the precepts of our religion. 

The Gospel calls us to redeem the time, employ our talents, exercise our affections, multiply our sympathies, and work ceaselessly in the vineyard of our Master. Our happiness must come from doing our duty; and our duty is to improve the time and the talents God has given us, with the utmost zeal, and to the greatest extent. 

It is this sentiment of religious duty which alone has power to calm and steady the mind and heart, while it keeps both earnest and busy in the work of life. Filling the post assigned to us, contending with the obstacles and troubles that lie in our appointed way, flying away from no foes, and evading no obligations – that is the road to heaven and the way of present peace. 

Rejoice in the demands made on your gifts and talents. Do not think it necessary to leave your post, because it is monotonous, or lonely, or without opportunities. 

Employ your ingenuity in varying its monotony, in breaking up its unsatisfactory nature. Do not waste your time in longing for what is unattainable, but set yourself to work, and do what you can to secure and enjoy what is within your reach. You can each have a cultivated mind, a well-regulated heart, an obedient will. 

You can use your eyes and ears, and hands and feet. You may have to invent some new way, or to meet some peculiar obstacles; but what are a man's or woman's mind and character for, but to circumvent difficulties and discover and employ some few original methods? 

Anything but vain longings for dove's wings will do. The rest the heart and soul want is in God – full faith in the Father, the Author of our nature. And no dove can carry us nearer to Him than we already are, when we humbly, submissively, and patiently do his will.

No, let His dove come to us instead – that holy Spirit which is God's love and truth and will, welcomed and found and felt in our docile, trusting hearts, and then that rest which visits the soul that is earnest in the Father's business will establish itself here and now, even in the midst of the most painful and trying circumstances. 

Then, we shall want no wings to carry us away, for the dove's wings will be folded in a nest which God makes full of peace and quietness for us, and for Himself and his Son, in the bottom of every patient, faithful, and active Christian's heart!

Guest message by Henry W. Bellows (1814-1882)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Example of Jesus [#JesusFollowers]

When we consider that we are expressly commanded, in the Gospel, to imitate the example of Jesus; when we survey the fair and unblemished original himself, and reflect on the peculiar obligations Christians are under to follow it; we may rightly be surprised that any who pretend to the Christian name would live in the careless neglect of this plain and important duty.

But, surprising as it is, we need only look abroad through the world, and observe the conduct of mankind, to be convinced that, by many who pretend to be his followers, the example of the Son of God, is treated with contempt, or regarded with indifference.

Of this strange inconsistency between the profession and practice of Christians, wise and good men, in all ages, have always complained. But, on what must the blame be laid? On the example itself, or on any inability of men to follow it?

The unsuitable lives of Christians, their impiety and wickedness, has done more real injury to the cause of religion, has brought more scandal and reproach on the Christian character, and been a greater obstacle to the success of the gospel, than the daring attacks of its avowed enemies.

In imitation of Jesus' example, we ought to be inwardly pious and devout towards God. "Whoever says he abides in him,” writes John, “Ought to walk in the same way in which he walked." 1 John 2:6

His mind was continually fixed upon God, and he maintained a constant correspondence with his heavenly Father.

We find him frequently lifting up his soul in pious statements, and always involved in some spiritual and divine exercise. While others were engaged in the business and amusement of the day, or buried in the silence or ease of the night, he frequently retired from the world to converse with his God, and sometimes spent whole nights in that delightful way.

The most exalted piety was exemplified in his life, and the most subservient devotion animated his behavior and devotion, not breaking out in sudden flashes, like the seed in the parable, which soon sprung up, and soon withered away; but steady and regular, like that all-perfect Being, the object of it, with whom there is no variableness nor shadow of turning.

Is not this a noble pattern for our imitation?

Animated, then, by his great example, let us make religion our principal business; let us not continue estranged from God, but let us acquaint ourselves with him, and, by the exercise of faith and love maintain a constant correspondence with him.

In the most distressful circumstances of life, he cheerfully submitted to his Father's will. He was obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.

Let us then imitate our Savior in this most necessary virtue. While we are in this world, we may lay our account to meet with afflictions.

In this manner, our Savior himself acted while he was in the world; and we who profess to be Christians, ought to imitate his example. He trod the rugged path of adversity with undaunted courage; he walked on in a course of suffering with the most cheerful resignation; and he did so, that he might go before us in this road of danger, and leave us an example that we might follow his steps.

In imitation of Jesus' example, we ought to entertain a sincere and cordial love to our brethren of mankind. There is no virtue for which our Savior was more distinguished; nor indeed is there any in which we ought to resemble him more.

God's love of humanity caused Him to send Jesus out into the world; it was Jesus'  constant employment, during his ministry, to promote their happiness; and nothing gave him so much pleasure, as to see them hearkening to his instructions, and embracing the offers of God's mercy.

(Adapted from, “The Example of Jesus, A Perfect Standard for the Imitation of Christians” by Rev. George Lyon, 1729-1794)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Is God Doing His Job?

Some people have turned away from God because they feel He isn't doing His "job" of perfectly orchestrating the Universe.

Recently, actor and atheist Stephen Fry 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, March 1, 2015

Understanding the Love God Wants Us to Have For Others

In the English language, we generally use one word to express "love." We LOVE our parents, we LOVE coffee, we LOVE our friends and we LOVE a movie or TV show.

But this was not so with other cultures, and was not true of the ancient Roman world that translated our Master Jesus' words into common Greek.

There were at least six terms to express "Love" known to Greek-speakers, and a few of these ended up in the Gospel texts.

One of these, Philia or Philos, is the form of love that exists between friends. We recognize it most clearly, perhaps, in the word "Philadelphia," the city of brotherly love. And that's a good definition for it.

This word represents a friendly bond of shared interests, and in mutual likes and dislikes, and it can depend solely on these common interests or grow into a friendship that is very deep and long-lasting, and a positive bond of affection. Jesus says, "I call you friends." (John 15:15)

Eros is the Greek word for erotic, sexual and possessive love. It's based on lust and desire, and as such, is fickle and can be fleeting and lost quickly. Flames that burn brightest often burn quickest, and give off more heat and light. Even pagan Greeks of the time were said to fear such a love, because it was often uncontrollable and dangerous.

Agape love is the pure love of God - the love that people mean when they talk of "selfless" love. This is the love God has toward us and the love we are meant to give to our neighbors, to God, and even to our enemies. In Latin, Agape was translated "Caritas" from which we get our word "Charity."

We are called upon by Jesus to have this Agape - this Godly concern and selfless care for others. In fact, this is an obligation of charity we have towards ALL other people.

When Jesus says, "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?" (Luke 6:32) the Greek word we use to translate "love" is rooted in "Agape."

When he says we are to "love one another. As I loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34) he also speaks of "agape." The same with "If you keep my commands, you will remain in my AGAPE, just as obey the commands of the Father and remain in His AGAPE." (John 15:10)

The same root word is used when Jesus says we are to LOVE our God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind. (Luke 10:27)

Once we understand Agape love - the love of God wishes us to have towards him and others - all other kinds of love are affected.

Jesus calls on us to have LOVE towards both God and our neighbors, , even our enemies (Matt. 5:44.) This is Agape - pure, self-sacrificing and "others-centered" rather than self-centered or self-loving.

In fact, Jesus ties love of friends and Agape together, saying "Greater love [Agape] has no man than this: to lay down his life for his friends [Philon]." (John 15:13)

When we have an appropriate understanding of love, it affects everything. And a false understanding of love actually becomes dangerous.

Love of "things" is tempered by the appropriate love we're supposed to have towards them. Eros, or sexual love, become tamed by tenderness and is affected by it.

When Jesus says we may ask ANYTHING of God in prayer, we must understand that love of money and love of things should not enter into that prayer, because that is a greed for material possessions, not a pure love and the balanced understanding of "things" that God wishes us to have.

To know that we are to seek from God only spiritual things that don't rot or fade away, we know we can ONLY ask in prayer out of a pure Love for others and for THEIR spiritual well-being (and for our own spiritual completeness) rather than for material riches that aren't helpful to the advancement of God's Kingdom.

If we call Jesus our friend and Master, we will do all that he asks us to do. He calls us to love and care for others without reservation, selflessly, and in all purity.

Let us go and do as he calls us to do.