Sunday, November 24, 2019

Preparing For When The Rain Comes #JesusFollowers

The Parable of House on the Rock is among Jesus’ best-known parables. In it, Jesus says: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27/ESV)

While there is a lot here to unpack (and we have dealt with this parable before) what we’re focusing on today is the rain itself. The rain fell, the floods came, the winds blew and beat on that house, just as troubles today beat on our own homes, and on us.

We aren’t surprised when trouble visits us. Jesus tells us the God “makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matt. 5:45)

Trouble and trials are, therefore, part of our lives and existence.

We struggle with money, relationships, work, traffic jams, and numerous other challenges each day.
It’s HOW we handle this flood of challenges that makes the difference.

Jesus uses this parable and the rest of his teachings to tell us exactly how to handle the rains, floods, and wind of our lives.

By putting the teachings of Jesus at the core of our faith, we are able to withstand the troubles of our lives.

When we listen to Jesus, and hear that he has provided us with help, we are far better equipped to cope with life’s challenges than without that help.

Jesus teaches us to bring God’s Kingdom down around us through our individual Righteous acts, spreading God’s love with the light He has implanted within each of us at birth.

Jesus tells us to defeat the evil that comes into our lives not by returning evil for evil, but by praying for and actively loving those who persecute us. This truly defeats evil.

Jesus calls us to actively go about serving others, going the extra mile when asked to serve, and seeking to address the immediate physical and spiritual needs of those around us.

But while Jesus’ parable makes it clear that we may choose to be wise and heed these teachings of his, conversely, we may also choose to be foolish and ignore them.

We can simply make Jesus into a magic totem, chanting his name repeatedly (“Lord, Lord!”) while ignoring his actual teachings and not “doing them,” as the parable instructs.

We can try to make Jesus’ goodness our own simply by “claiming” his righteousness, but failing to actually DO the righteousness he calls us to do in this world. (Through the magic of a man-made doctrine named “imputed righteousness.”)

Or we can simply demand that God allow us into Heaven based on our mere belief in the story ABOUT Jesus, again, while ignoring the work Jesus himself calls us to do here on earth to be worthy of God’s eternal Kingdom.

But this false “instant salvationism” reeks of what Jesus warns us about when he speaks of the “wide gate” (Matt. 7:13.) It’s the easy path many take instead of the narrow gate Jesus lays out of those who are called Jesus Followers and who seek to follow him in more than just name only.

If we have a foundation that is solid – one that is built upon the rock of the teachings of Jesus and not the clever, sandy theological teachings of later men, we can weather any of the storms the world sends our way.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

God Wishes Us To Be Happy And Holy! #JesusFollowers

The peculiar happiness designed for us by our Creator is holiness - the pursuit of moral excellence. In this alone can we find a substantial and soul-satisfying pleasure. In this alone can we make continual advances and continually find new objects presented commensurate with our increased power of acquisition and new gratifications to fill our enlarged capacity of enjoyment.

The same goodness, which imposed on the inferior animals the law of instinct, imposed on human beings this moral law, and for the same purpose, for the promotion of happiness. 

We are not indeed bound like animals to a necessary obedience. But this freedom is an attribute of our superior nature. It is this which makes each of us an improvable being, which if it renders us capable of error, it also gives us the capacity for exalted virtue, if it gives us the ability to sin, it also confers on us the power of repentance and reformation.

What are we taught was the great object of the mission of Jesus? It was to save us from sin. He came indeed to save us from the misery and ruin which are the consequences of our sins, and to save us from these by saving us from sin itself, the necessary and invariable cause of unhappiness - by revealing such truths, presenting such motives, inculcating such precepts, setting such a pure and perfect example, as should lead us to abhor and forsake our sins, and enter on the paths of holiness, peace and happiness.

And accordingly, those who have embraced his Gospel, and have begun to govern their hearts and lives by its truths and precepts, have already entered into eternal life and enjoying a foretaste of the happiness of Heaven.

If happiness is intimately dependent on character, it follows that no condition of salvation can be substituted for a holy life, and that with this no other condition can be necessary. Are we conscious of a habitual and devoted obedience to the law of God and of joy and peace in our obedience? Our present happiness is a foretaste of our eternal future. The character which produces such blessed fruits here, will accompany us to Heaven; and there it will bring forth more abundantly.

On the other hand, if we are conscious of no such obedience, it is folly to lay our hopes on any other foundation. So long as we retain a sinful character, we cannot be happy, either in this life or in the future. Our only resource, our only hope is in a change of character. And that change can be done only by ourselves.

Every man's character is the work of his own hands. If our salvation be ever wrought out, the work must be accomplished by our own free will. No other being can accomplish it for us.  Jesus may set before us the pure precepts of his gospel, he may present to our minds its glorious truths and commanding motives end exhibit his own living example of spotless holiness, but after all it remains with ourselves, whether we will obey those precepts, and open our understandings to those truths, and our hearts to the love and imitation of that perfect character.

The idea that we can be made either better or worse without an act of our own wills is utterly inconsistent with our whole moral Nature. The supposition of our being happy without holiness is equally foolish. Unless we make ourselves good, omnipotence itself - I speak it with reverence - Omnipotence itself cannot make us happy.

That unbounded and ever restless desire after perfect happiness which is continually prompting so many mad endeavors would be fixed and concentrated upon the pursuit of real excellence. Instead of anxiously inquiring how little is absolutely essential to be done, we should be eager continually to learn more of our duty that we might be able to obey more perfectly and feel more of the joy of obedience. What folly, on this view of the subject, is every moment's delay of attention to religion.

I ask what can we do better for present and immediate happiness than to enter into a religious life? From what can we expect purer pleasure? What can yield us a fuller satisfaction? In what pursuit can we embark with a more perfect assurance against disappointment? What a strange error concerning the true nature of religion and our own happiness, to talk of deferring our attention to religion till we have tasted a little more of the pleasures of the world.

Here is the true, essential happiness which God designed for our souls, placed within our reach, soliciting our acceptance, and every moment we neglect to put forth our hand to take it is lost to the true purposes of our being - and shall we madly play about in pursuit of a vain and delusive phantom?

My friends, let us make haste and delay not to enter on those ways which alone are ways of pleasantness and paths of peace.

Adapted from a sermon (ca. 1833) by Rev. Cazneau Palfrey (1805-1888)

Sunday, November 10, 2019

#Jesus Is Our Perfect Example! #JesusFollowers

The life, teachings and death of Jesus inspire us to follow Jesus' example.

Jesus had the fullness of his Father’s spirit; and we have also a portion of the same. This puts all the children of men on equal ground, and makes Jesus our Pattern.

His example becomes the point after which we are to aspire; for his righteousness must be the criterion of judgment; because arrived at perfect obedience, doing in all things that for which he was sent by his Father, Jesus has shown by his example that all are able to obey God.

Jesus was a perfect example to us, to show to us that for the testimony of God our creator, we must be willing, as Jesus was, to surrender up everything unto God; and to do his will in everything, even if it cost us our natural lives. For if we are brought into the situation that he was in, that we cannot save our natural lives without giving up the testimony that God has called us to bear, we have his example not to do it, though we may feel as he did, that it is a great trial.

We have it now on record. We need only take up the precepts of Jesus, only look at his example, and his direction to his disciples, and see if we can find anything, any testimony worthy to be compared with it.

What is true religion? It consists entirely in righteousness, that righteousness which is acceptable in the sight of God. It unites us with God, as it did his blessed Son, and brings us to partake of his holy nature, and we become one with him – as the disciples formerly were declared to be partakers of the divine nature.

Until we do everything in our power, by every means put in our hands, we shall not find support from God! There are no sins so great, in this probationary, earthly state, our Father would not stand ready to forgive, if we turn to Him with full purpose of heart and acknowledge our transgressions.

He gives us the grace of repentance, and enables us so to walk as to be reconciled to Him, and gain a greater establishment in Himself, and in the truth, than when we first came out of His creating hands.

(Adapted from an 1826 sermon by Elias Hicks)

Sunday, November 3, 2019

#Jesus, Teacher of Wisdom #JesusFollowers

Jesus of Nazareth has forever impressed upon the human race a whole series of truths which Millions regard as normative for life. This fact rates him as one of the world's pre-eminent thinkers. Should he then properly be called a philosopher?

Certainly not in the modern technical sense of the term philosopher common or in the ancient sense of the term as the Greeks understood and used it.

Philosophy is esteemed as the gift of the Greeks to civilization. But there is an important difference between Jesus, and Plato and Aristotle. These latter men, as typical philosophers, were primarily interested in an intellectual understanding of the universe in which we live and of which we are a part. Jesus shared that interest, certainly, but speculation was not his primary concern.

His primary interest was morality and religion, and about these, his thinking was not abstract, but concrete and practical.

In its literal meaning, philosophy means "love of wisdom." Philosophy is not merely the "love of wisdom," it is the best wisdom of the lovers of wisdom. The Jewish people, in New Testament times, had their lovers of wisdom.

They were known variously as wise men, the wise, sages, or teachers of wisdom. They were the educators of their day, men whose special interest lay in knowing and producing the kind of thought which is technically termed Wisdom.

Such sages were usually men of professional scribal training, but a Jew, such as Jesus, might gain a knowledge of the Hebrew language and the Hebrew Scriptures outside of a formal School.

The Jewish sages did not form Schools of thought as the Greeks did. But they were differences among them, especially in regard to the nature of the divine government of the world, and regarding the dignity and possible happiness of human life.

From the Seventh to Second Centuries, BC, there was growing an increasing body of Jewish wisdom teaching. Among these can be classed the Book of job, Ecclesiastes, the Wisdom of Ben Sirach, The Testament of the twelve Patriarchs, the Wisdom of Solomon, and 4th Maccabees.

While the Greek philosopher sought to read the riddle of the universe by the investigation of natural phenomena, the Hebrew philosopher already held in his hand the key of Revelation, and with the help of this, sought a closer understanding of the ways of God and the duty of man.

Jewish Wisdom, therefore, was not a view of the universe distinct from God much less a view of God distinct from the universe it was a view of the universe with God dwelling in it.

Jesus’s thinking likewise was built on the same fundamental Axiom of Jewish thought. No doubt about the existence of God ever crossed his mind. He never argued about or sought to prove the reality of God. He was too much profit to feel the need for any such proof. Nor did he attempt a systematic presentation of the idea of God. Jesus assume the existence of God, not because it was traditional to do so but because of his own inner experience of God.

Like every prophet, Jesus was a man of insight and action. "Not learning, but doing, is the chief thing," was a basic principle of Jewish wisdom teaching. That principle set the motive for Jesus. Life was something to be lived, rather than something about which to speculate or construct a systemic Theory.

Jesus thought and taught Jewish wisdom. The spirit of the wise was in him. To consider Jesus as a teacher has long been commonplace. What kind of teacher he was has not been so clearly pointed out. Jesus is properly to be integrated with the wisdom teachers of Judaism. This interpretation not only does not modernize Jesus, emphatically orients him, historically.

In Galilee, Jesus's Ministry was primarily that of a prophet and a teacher. The most certain fact that we know about Jesus is that he was a teacher. As the Fourth Gospel quite fittingly ascribes to Jesus this self-appraisal: "You call me Teacher, and Master, and rightly so, for such I am." (John 13:13)

His ethical teaching shines through every account of his life. In Mark, he says, "Let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because I came out for this reason." (Mark 1:38)

Mark records that Jesus was saluted as a rabbi by his disciples. Mark refers to the long, tasseled, teacher's robe which Jesus wore, on which some in the crowd tried to grab.

This picture of Jesus as a teacher is not one that Mark would have invented. It was not a role that was expected of the Messiah.

Here then, Jesus is understood as a man of Wisdom. He is depicted as an itinerant teacher. He preached in the synagogues, for example in Nazareth, Capernaum, and elsewhere. He addressed people in the villages; not only in synagogues, but on the streets. He taught them in the countryside wherever he met them, by the lake, in the field, or on the hillside.

This method of Jesus is characteristically that of the Wisdom teachers. Jesus pursued his ministry in the manner of friendship and intimate personal relationship. He deliberately chose this method rather than any other for his work, for it was a customary method with Jewish teachers.  

Such itinerant teachers are popularly called philosophers. The whole emphasis of philosophy in the first century was ethical, its aim was the formation and guidance of moral character.  But Jesus did not write down his Wisdom, instead, he embodied the living spirit of his teaching in his life.

(Adapted from "The World-View of Jesus," by Elmer W. K. Mould, 1941)