Sunday, August 30, 2020

Being a Disciple of Jesus #JesusFollowers

“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master." (Matt. 10:24-25)

The most casual reader must be struck with the uniqueness of the opinions held and expressed by Jesus. They run directly counter to the opinions held by men of all nations, and of all creeds.

Things which the world holds blessed, Jesus curses, and things which the world denounces, Jesus welcomes. Let the Sermon on the Mount furnish illustrations.

Jesus exalts poverty of spirit, puts a premium upon meekness, highly esteems reproach and persecution for righteousness' sake. We seem here to breathe another air, to live in another world from the ordinary life of both ancient and modern times.

Here are no prejudices of nation,
or of age, or of sect. Here is no trace of sentiments which seem innate in human nature.

And yet the disciples of Jesus will share His opinions. They will esteem lovely the graces which won His regard and admiration. They will esteem unworthy the qualities which He branded with disapproval, however men may honour them, or seek under fine names to hide their real nature.

Contemplating their Master with ever-increasing admiration, they will see all things with His eyes. His tastes, His sentiments will be theirs. They will know no law but His, and own no other authority as competent to guide their opinions or to fashion their lives. They will catch His spirit, they will be moulded by His influence, they will become conformed to His likeness. “Everyone that is perfect shall be as his Master."

Actions speak louder than words, and men always look to the lives of great teachers. Are they consistent with their discourses? Do they do the things which they teach others to do?

Often have men enunciated sublime thoughts and lofty precepts, but have miserably failed to put them into practice. It is comparatively easy to discern Heavenly goodness, especially since we have the perfect example in Jesus.

The world itself, unconsciously influenced by the very Jesus whom it rejects, has caught up the benedictions which He pronounced, and parrot-like, repeats them.

Blessed now even in the judgment of the world are humility, piety, liberality. But as for the practice of these, alas, what can be said?

Admiration, applause, patronage, the world can give, for these are cheap, and the very giving of them may gain a good name, but to bear Christ Jesus' yoke? Far from it! To take up his Cross as a personal burden, from that many shrink who are quite willing to lavish upon the Cross in the abstract all homage and praise.

For the Cross as a symbol worn upon the person, built into architecture, glorified by art is one thing. The Cross as a burden, an obligation of today, is quite another! The one is common to all Christendom, the other is confined to the few who are ready to follow the Master wherever he goes.

But Jesus lived as he taught. He was all that He said that we ought to be. These graces of which he spoke so sweetly found their completest expression in his own life.

His words were the utterances of a heart enriched with the indwelling of this blessedness. He spoke that which he knew, and he knew not afar off, but by his own experience.

And so it is in their measure with His disciples. For this they will strive with all the energy of the new life working in them, and they will be content with nothing short of this.

Admiring thoughts and wistful looks vill not satisfy them. True disciples will aim to translate opinion into practice, and though the translation may be often blurred and mistaken, it is yet surely, if slowly, becoming more and more accurate.

Day by day, some old habit is being overcome, some new grace is being acquired. Painfully, perhaps, but most thoroughly, the work is being done, and will continue to be done until Jesus shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied. "Everyone that is perfect shall be as his Master.”

(Adapted from a sermon, "The Disciple of Jesus," given by Rev. W.F. Clarkson on March 10, 1872 in Lincoln, England)

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Why "I'm Only Human" Can't Be An Excuse For Sinning #JesusFollowerrs

How many times have we heard, after someone makes a mistake, or acts sinfully, “Well, he (or she) was ONLY HUMAN, after all”? Perhaps many times. It's a common saying. But do we ever wonder why this is used as an excuse for the sinful action? Is there something IN US that MAKES us sin against our will?

There are a lot of clever excuses we can use to avoid doing what's right – or even actively do what is wrong. We can say others around us “forced” us to do these things – and peer pressure can indeed be a strong factor.

We can say we couldn't avoid doing them – and if we put ourselves in situations in which sin is happening a lot, that can certainly influence us to go along with others.

And we can also say that we were born so flawed that we CANNOT do anything BUT sin and rebel against God – that we are “only human.” This last excuse is perhaps the greatest lie to ever infect Christendom - and the vast majority of Christians today believe it totally.

If it’s true, just BEING among those pressuring us means that we will cave in to sin every time. And if we are around evil and sinful behavior, that would mean we'd do evil EVERY time.

But that’s not true. We CAN resist, and can work to keep ourselves away from temptation. We know this because Jesus and the Bible teaches us that we can, and must, do so, to please God.

It's important to know exactly what "sin" is in the Bible. John said he wrote a letter so that people "will not sin" (1 John 2:1.) That's not to say that we are going to immediately stop all sinning once we are exposed to the teachings of Jesus, but early Christians clearly expected new converts to make all effort to put behind them the sins they previously did routinely. This was true of stealing, lusting, cheating others, lying, and more.

But if what's being called "sin" is something inherited from our birth, we have a problem believing this, because in the Bible, sin is an act, not a thing.

If it is a compulsion from birth, that cannot be avoided, we have an excuse. We cannot be guilty for being compelled unavoidably in that way.

It's only if we proplrly view sin as a CHOICE which we can avoid, that we begin to view it as the Biblical writers, and Jesus, viewed it. And then, we can confront and defeat it.

We've been taught some theological falsehoods from the pulpit. The Biblical frist man's"original sin" doesn't attach to us.

Turns out, God told Adam's son that sin is a choice, which he can and must avoid (Gen. 4:7-8.) That he chose falsely means he earned punishment, just as God warned.

But only an individual’s ACTS of sin are punishable, and we are not liable for the sins of anyone else (Ezek. 18:19-24.) If we are sinful by nature, and yet we sin, we are NOT guilty, according to God. Only by our wrong choice are we liable.

We must trust God when He told Cain - and by extension, us - that we NEED NOT SIN, and instead, must work to not sin any longer, instead asking God's forgiveness, which is granted freely upon repenting of our past behavior.

We are assured that God has given all people the ability to stop sinning (Deut. 30:11-14; 19) and that we have Jesus as our example that a human being need not sin, and in fact CAN obey and please God.

Jesus’ example is a model upon which we can shape our actions. We must trust Jesus when he said we must seek Godliness and that we could become Godly and complete – not by ourselves, without God or without God’s chosen example guiding us, but with God's ongoing help and with the example of Jesus always before us, leading the way.

We are called to commit our lives to obedience to God's chosen Spokesman, Jesus, the Anointed Prophet of God, and submit to humbly walk with him, relying, as he taught, on God's forgiveness, and growing into the Righteous Perfection that God knows we are capable of achieving.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Good Works Are The Light Of The World! #JesusFollowers

"You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men, that they may see your
good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 5:14, 16)

A light is always meant for the use of those who are in darkness, that by it they may see.
The sun lights up the darkness of this world. A lamp is hung in a room to give it light. The
Church of Jesus is the light of humanity. The disciples are to shine into the darkness and give them light.

As the rays of light stream forth from the sun and scatter that light all around, so the good works of believers are the light that streams out from them to conquer the surrounding darkness, with its ignorance of God and estrangement from Him.

What a high and holy place is thus given to our good works. What power is attributed to them! How much depends upon them!

They are not only the light and health and joy of our own life, but in every deed, the means of bringing lost souls out of darkness into God’s marvellous light. They are even more than that. They not only bless others, but they glorify God, in leading people to know Him as the Author of the grace seen in His children.

Let us listen to what the words of the Master have to teach us.

The aim of good works is that God may be glorified. You remember how our Master
said to the Father: "I have glorified You on the earth, I have finished the work which You
gave Me to do."

It is when our good works are something more than the ordinary virtues of refined people, and bear the imprint of God upon them, that people will glorify God. 

They must be the good works of which the Sermon on the Mount is the embodiment - a life of God’s children, doing more than others, seeking to be perfect as their Father in heaven is perfect.

The works are an evidence to the reality of the Divine truth that is taught, while without them the world is powerless.

The whole world was made for the glory of God. Jesus came to bring us back to serve and glorify Him. Believers are placed in the world with this one purpose, that they may let their light shine in good works, so as to win people to God.

As truly as the light of the sun is meant to lighten the world, the good works of God’s children are meant to be the light of those who know and love not God. 

Good works bear the mark of something heavenly and divine, and have a power to compel the admission that God is in them.

Let us undertake the study of what working for God is, and know that good works are a part of this, with the desire to follow Jesus fully, so we will have the light of life shining into our  hearts and lives, and from us, all around us.

"You ARE the light of the world!"

(Adapted from the works of Rev. Andrew Murray, 1828-1917)

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Simple Gospel Of Jesus and His View Of God #JesusFollowers

We do not find that God has ever enjoined on men the duty of believing without evidence. We do not find that He has ever addressed them otherwise than as rational beings, capable of discerning between truth and falsehood, and expected to do so on their own responsibility.

Revelation, as we think, came not to supersede reason, or to set aside its deductions; but to enlighten its course, to expand its views, to enlarge its field of action, to dispel the earth-born mists that obscured its vision, to give it broader and more solid premises, on which to build its conclusions, and to imp its wings for a higher flight.

It never calls for the subjection of reason - the 'prostration' of understanding, to its dictates. On the contrary, it is itself subjected to the decision of reason; and must abide the test. It must be received or rejected according to the dictates of our sober judgment on the evidence presented.

And as with the evidence on which it rests, so with the doctrines it contains. These too, are subjected to the test of reason. We believe them just in so far as we understand them ; and no farther.

The provinces of faith and reason are not distinct, the one beginning where the other ends. They cover the same ground.

It seems to us a mere identical proposition to state that what is not understood, cannot be believed. In this case no object is presented to the mind for it to receive or reject.

What is not understood is to me no revelation. If a man says that he believes what he does not pretend either to explain or comprehend, he deceives himself. His faith is merely verbal and illusory.

Doubtless there may be many truths both in nature and in scripture, of which we are ignorant. But to us, so long as we remain ignorant of them, they are nothing - they are to us as though they did not exist.

We pretend not to comprehend the nature and perfections of the Divine Being, for example, but in so far as they are displayed, they are perfectly plain and intelligible. And what is not displayed is no concern of ours.

My eye cannot penetrate the deep infinitude of the space that surrounds me; but within the verge of my own horizon I can see clearly, and move freely: with what is beyond I have at present no concern. Let it not be said that we exalt reason at the expense of revelation. We do but assign to each its appropriate sphere.

Reason, we admit, was weak and inefficient by itself. And why? It lacked authority to still the clamor of the passions, that disturbed its operations. It lacked facts to render its conclusions certain. Above all, it wanted sanctions to bind them on the conscience. All this revelation has supplied; and thus completed the system of God's dispensations to man.

For those who rest their hopes on Christianity, there is one fundamental doctrine, and one only. The essentials of our creed may be stated in three words: “Jesus is the Christ; a messenger of truth and mercy from God.”

This simple proposition admitted, with unwavering assent into the mind, the whole business of Christian faith, merely and distinctively, is discharged.

If this single doctrine will not enlighten the conscience, and purify the heart, and regulate the life; if it will not tranquillize the spirit, and enkindle devotion, and awaken hope, and wing the aspirations of the soul to God; if it will not communicate strength to suffer, and a will to serve, then nothing will. We cannot believe that by making our faith more complex we should increase its practical power, even in minds capable of wider and more elaborate views.

(From a Sermon by Martin Luther Hurlbut, 1780-1843)

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Let's Join the Joyful Mission Of Jesus! #JesusFollowers

Jesus started his ministry with extremely clear words outlining his mission:

"The Spirit of Yahweh ("The LORD") is upon me, because He has chosen me to preach good news to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are being bruised." (Luke 4:8)

He said why he was chosen, anointed at baptism, and sent by God to preach - it was what he called the Kingdom:

"I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I WAS SENT FOR THIS PURPOSE” (Luke 4:43.)

Jesus' ministry and life's message was entirely focused on this Kingdom of God - the ideal realm of Heaven that Jesus said should be made a reality here, "on earth, as it is in Heaven" (Matt. 6:10.) That this is a spiritual and not a literal, temporal one is also clear from his own words (John 18:36.)

It's a Kingdom in which he called people to be righteous, merciful, and complete ("perfect") just as God is (Matt. 5:20, 5:48, Luke 6:36) and just as Jesus - whom God chose as his spokesman - modeled for us with the example of his selfless life and death (John 13:15; 1 John 2:6.)

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)

And he made it clear that we should spread this Kingdom far and wide:

"Go therefore, and teach all nations...Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." (Mt 28:19,20)

"If you love me," he said, "you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15)

It's abundantly obvious why we don't hear much of this Gospel of Jesus from pulpits. It's because it is hard, it calls us to perform Good Works, and it calls us to deny ourselves and serve others. In short, it challenges us to get up out of the pews and ACT in the world. Few want to hear that message on a lazy Sunday morning.

But if we read his words, and take them seriously (and if we wish to claim him as our Master, whom we say we love) we must admit that Jesus makes demands on those who say they follow him. And we're called to act on his commandments.

He calls us to ACTIVELY deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and to follow his teachings, daily in the service of others. (Luke 9:23) 

This Gospel of Jesus - this "Good News" - is shocking to our ears because we are used to things being FREE, and EASY.

But our God knows the human heart, and commissioned Jesus at his baptism to be our Examplar and Guide in all things. (Luke 3:22)

God knows that we are capable of doing what he wants us to do, and He knows that the effort will bring us joy.

Jesus models for us the perfect man, the man in whom God said was "well pleased." And Jesus tells us we are capable of all that God asks of us, through Jesus' teachings and life lessons.

He tells us that we must be "perfect, as our Father in Heaven is perfect," (Matt. 5:48) meaning that we can attain a degree of the moral perfection of God. Likewise, he tells us we must be "merciful, as your Father in Heaven is merciful." (Luke 6:36)

In short, he tells us that the Gospel is a challenge - a challenge to become the human beings that God created us to be, and knows that we can become.

God knows that we respond well to challenge and adversity, and that we can overcome it. He says sin may be crouching at the door, but we MUST overcome it. (Gen. 4:7) God says the Moral Law of Moses is "not too hard for you," and that it is "is in your mouth and in your heart, SO THAT YOU CAN DO IT." (Deut. 30:11, 14)

Isaiah says God has no doubt that human beings can, "cease to do evil, and learn to do good." (1:16)

James, the brother of Jesus, notes that adversity perfects us. "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of various kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces endurance." (James 1:17)

Jesus promises that, "The one who perseveres to the end will be saved.' (Matt. 10:22) and "by your patient endurance, you will gain your souls." (Luke 21:19)

"If you know these things (his teachings)" says Jesus, "Blessed are you if you do them." (John 13:17)

This God-given human ability is often never revealed by preachers because there is a lot riding on the idea that we are incapable of doing what God asks. But if we aren't, then God asks the impossible.

But again, God knows our heart, and knows that we become like Jesus when we act on his commands. And we spread the joy of Jesus and the Kingdom when we serve others. 

Jesus said he "came not to be served, but to serve." (Matt. 20:28.) And he calls us, like the Good Samaritan who served the stranger, to "Go, and do likewise." (Luke 10:37)

Jesus' words ring true today because they speak to longings of the human heart. He understood that when we treat others as we wish to be treated, our spirits become fuller and more complete and the needs of others are fulfilled as well. We lay up treasure in Heaven when we do Good for others. (Matt. 6:19-21)

It's also doing the work of spreading God's Kingdom, and that's the mission to which he calls us to joyfully join. Are we ready to take his words and mission seriously?