Sunday, November 29, 2015

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, 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 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)

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)

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 fast relief, to stop working. God becomes OUR servant, a “mother’s little helper” in whom we can rest. And finding 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, and Master, One Whom has sent us a perfect template, and it is through him 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, He and His chosen son, Jesus, 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.

But taking a default “let go” attitude means that we’ve given up. It means that we believe God exists to do all of our work, and 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.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

#Jesus Sets the Pattern of the Church. #JesusFollowers

Jesus laid a foundation for friendly organizations and families of love, who, being united in the possession, and living under the power and influence of, his Gospel, might be acted by a friendly and brotherly affection, and from thence be led to be helpers to, and watch over each other for their good.

They are to bear one another's burdens, sympathize with and comfort one another under the various afflictions and persecutions they might meet with in, and from the world; and by a good example provoke one another to love and good works.

Christian societies are intended to be a specimen of the blessed effects of the Gospel of Jesus, when it is received as it ought to be ; that is, when it becomes a principle of action in men, which rightly directs and governs their minds and lives.

Christianity is not a name, but a thing; and therefore it is not the professing, but living, according to the Gospel which truly represents it to the world. Christians are known to be such, not by their name, or by their profession, but by their lives. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35.)

The banner of a Christian is not the picture of a cross hung upon a pole, or made upon a man's forehead; but it is a virtuous and blameless conversation, or a mind and life conformed to the Gospel of Jesus. These are the purposes which Christian associations are intended to serve, and thus Jesus intended that such associations should be subservient to the furtherance of the Gospel, and should recommend it to a general acceptance.

Jesus did not lay the foundation of friendly organizations to answer the purposes of pomp, or wealth, or power.

He never intended that among his disciples and followers, some should be singled out from their brethren to be possessed of great revenues, live in stately palaces, wallow in luxury and ease, or sordidly heap up riches to raise a family; nor that they should lord it over those by whose labors they are maintained, clothed in pompous and elaborate dresses, placed on thrones or garnished stalls and feats of honor, assuming and exercising dominion over their brethren; and that others should labor to maintain them, be subject to them, bow down before them, and call them Rabbi, Rabbi.

Jesus was so far from giving any approval to anything of this kind, that on the contrary he has strictly forbade it. 

"But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,  even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve," (Matt: 20:25-28)

And also, “But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' because you have only one teacher, and all of you are brothers. And don't call anyone on earth 'Father,' because you have only one Father, the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'Teachers,' because you have only one teacher, the Anointed One! The person who is greatest among you must be your servant.” (Matt. 23:9-11.)

Here we see Jesus has taken all possible care that no authority or dominion, superiority or pre-eminence, dignifying or distinguishing should take place among his disciples and followers considered as such. He has not only forbidden it, but repeated that prohibition over, and over, and over.

This is the charge which Jesus has given; and therefore Reverend, Right Reverend, and Most Reverend Fathers in God, and all other badges of distinction, and marks of honor pre-eminence, superiority, or dominion, which take place in Christian organizations considered as such, and which serve to introduce a groundless respect and veneration for the persons of men, and a groundless submission to their pretended authority, are not only not Christian, but the most gross Anti-Christianism. They are set up in opposition to, and in defiance of Jesus’ authority, and his special charge and command to the contrary. 

This is not to say that Christians are not to render to their fellow Christians honor to whom it is due, (that is, to such of their fellow Christians who, by their virtue and good works, have rendered themselves worthy of it), and by showing decent marks of respect to them.

But if, in a Christian organization, a person seeks to be greater than others, it must be, not by his having greater possessions, or greater marks of honor conferred upon him, or by exercising dominion over his brethren (these being Anti-Christian) but it must be in his greater services and in his being more useful than others, in imitation of his Master, who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.

(Adapted from sermons by Rev. Thomas Chubb)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

#Jesus Lived Out A Gospel We Can Follow. #JesusFollowers

So that the Gospel might be better recommended to the world, Jesus was in his own person an example of strict conformity to it, by conforming his affections and actions to that unalterable rule of action which is founded in the reason of things. 

Jesus preached his own life, and lived his own doctrine, and thereby he was at once a standing monument of the practicableness of virtue, and of the present peace and happiness that flows from it.

In him, we may see what it is to live a godly, righteous, sober, and benevolent life; and that what he requires from us as the ground of God's favor is neither unreasonable, nor impracticable. In him, we have an example of a quiet and peaceable spirit, of a becoming modesty and sobriety, just and honest, upright and sincere, and above all of a most gracious and benevolent attitude and behavior.

His life was a beautiful picture of human nature, when in its native purity and simplicity, and showed at once what excellent creatures men would be, when under the influence and power of that Gospel which he preached unto them.

And as his holy life and doctrine drew on him the unreasonable resentment of the Clergy among the Jews, who stirred up the rest of the people against him: so this gave an occasion for his sealing his testimony with his blood, and of giving an instance of the greatest Benevolence towards mankind.

And just as his life was an excellent pattern and example of every good word and work, and therefore very fit and proper for his disciples and followers to copy after, so his death was no less exemplary. 

For he not only laid down his life to promote the greatest and the most general good to mankind, but he did it in such a manner (by exercising such patience and resignation under the severest trials and most painful afflictions and persecutions) as to render him highly worthy of our imitation.

(Adapted from Sermons by Rev. Thomas Chubb)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

#Jesus: A Clear Example We Are Able To Follow! #JesusFollowers

If a baby never saw an adult walking, how would that baby learn to walk? If a student never had a teacher to convey knowledge, how would that student ever learn? And if God expected us to be more holy, how would we ever learn without an example?

The good news is that God did not leave us alone – he chose from among humanity an example, adopting as His Son a man named Jesus to be our example in all things, so that we might become as God wishes us to be.

This example Jesus left us was a complete one. There are no other examples more perfect, none to which we must aspire, than this one example.

Jesus was chosen by God to be His prophetic spokesman; a perfect example for us in life and death of what God wishes us to be. He has called on us to follow him in all things.

If God had not chosen this example for us, and had Jesus not clearly and explicitly told us to follow this example in our efforts to be more like God in righteousness, we might be able to complain to God that we had no hope of following God’s moral laws.

Some might actually concoct false beliefs, saying, perhaps, that Jesus' example was just a 'conviction,' a show, to demonstrate our sins to us, and that his example wasn’t REALLY meant to be followed. Some might say that we were born corrupted and, even as babies, are utterly unable to do all that Jesus calls us to do.

But of course no one could say this who had even read one line of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, or any of his parables, where he had been clear in saying that we are called to do ALL things he did, and that we are fully capable of repenting and following Jesus' example.

Jesus tells us that the Being Who gave us our sense of moral obligations has designed us so that we are to conform to them, and expects us to do so. Because if we are unable to obey, if we are morally UNABLE to turn to God and work Righteousness, then we cannot at all be held accountable for our actions by this Creator of ours.

But Jesus and the entire Hebrew Scriptures clearly and plainly proclaim that we will be held accountable in the next life for what we do in this life.

What, then, is this example Jesus left us to follow?

- Jesus said that serving God isn't about doing so in order to "get stuff," to be financially rewarded, to advance your career, to get ahead of others, to feel self-satisfied and smug about your station in life. It's about serving others, and as our example, Jesus called us to act selflessly, and lovingly. (Mark 4:19; 10:23; Luke 16:13; Luke 16:24)

- It’s about seeking heavenly treasure, rather than earthly treasure; that gold and wealth are not to be our objects of affection, and that our souls are not measured by them. (Matt. 6:33; Luke 12:33)

- That we will be judged by our works, not by our vain words, not by our excited utterances, not by our weak professions or creeds, not by our mere good intentions, and certainly not by judging ourselves ‘holy’ or ‘righteous’ because we have faith alone, without works. (Ezekiel 3:21; 18:5-9; 18:30; Matt. 5:16; 6:7; 15:3; 7:21; John 3:21)

- Jesus taught that we must repent of our sins, and turn back to God. By doing this, and by committing to live for God and serve Him and our fellow human being in His name, we reside in the heart of God, our Father, and in Him alone is our eternal salvation. (Matt. 4:17; Mark 9:35; John 15:10; John 17:3)

- It is in serving God and our fellow beings alone are we ‘saved,’ not by any man-made idea of salvation or man-made plan to force God to grant it without works or obedience; and God alone judges whether we are worthy and are ‘saved’ eternally. We cannot judge ourselves, others cannot judge us, and we cannot judge others worthy or ‘saved.’ (Isaiah 33:22; Luke 6:37; John 8:15-16; John 8:50)

Let us humbly and with reverence serve God according to the example He has chosen for us – the life, teachings and death of Jesus. Let him alone be our example and guide in all things.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

#Jesus Calls Us to a Life of Works, Action, Love and Service! #JesusFollowers

God equips us, from birth, with gifts that are meant to be used for Good. Jesus - the one God has chosen and sent out as our perfect example - calls on us to do all that is within our power to perform Good Works, relying on these Original, Natural gifts, and seeking greater strength and wisdom from God, Who gives to us abundantly when we need spiritual renewal.

Jesus, God's spokesman and our example, did not chart out for us any new way to earn God's favor and eternal life. In truth, he taught the same path that always was, and always will be, the true path to eternal life; namely, keeping the commandments, or loving God and our neighbor, which is the same thing, and is the sum and substance of the God’s Moral Law.

Jesus' call, "whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" (Matt. 7:12) summaries his entire ministry and the Hebrew Bible's moral teaching.

By following after the path God wishes us to lead – the path of Righteousness – we will live fuller, more complete and more joyful lives. Jesus lays out for us this path clearly, plainly, and in a way that needs no further revelations or elaboration from men.

Jesus has clearly called us to a life of works and action, of radical love and service, calling on us to love our neighbors just as we love ourselves. (Mark 12:33; Matt. 22:35-40)

Jesus teaches us that we should humbly perform Good Works and Holy Service. As Jesus' brother James puts it, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:26.)

Jesus calls us to seek to become more holy people, to seek to act in righteousness.

Jesus calls on us to deny ourselves, and to serve others first. We should live our lives in the joyful service of others.

Jesus calls us to achieve, to do, to act, to work, to seek out the truth, to be humble, to worship and praise our God, and to love others.

‎Jesus‬ calls us to put his teachings into practice in our lives, lest we build our houses of faith on the shifting sands of mere words and empty praise, rather than the solid rock of obedience. (Matt. 7:24-26)

Jesus calls on us to not be hypocrites. He pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees – the religious leaders of his day – for being obsessed with man-made doctrines and rituals, but neglecting, "the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness." (Matt. 23:23)

And how do we know that we can do this, that we can do all that Jesus asks of us? Because Jesus lived in perfect obedience, doing in all things that pleased God (his and our Father) and showed by this example that ALL OF US are able to do as he did.

We are left without excuse, therefore, and are called to humbly seek the spiritual completeness Jesus achieved, asking God's forgiveness when we fall short, repenting of these sins, and seeking strength to continue in obedience.

Let us humbly and with reverence serve God according to the example He has chosen for us – through the life and the teachings of Jesus. Let him alone be our example and guide in all things.