Sunday, September 24, 2023

A Call to Service and Costly Grace [#JesusFollowers]

The great pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who gave his life in a Nazi concentration camp, preached bravely against the notion of "cheap grace," saying that "When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die."

Bonhoeffer defines Cheap Grace in his work, "The Cost of Discipleship" thusly: 

"Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ…. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has."
In truth, Grace is indeed a gift from God, but it requires not only the recognition that it IS a gift, but also obedience to the Giver, if we accept it from Him.

Shockingly, Bonhoeffer was one of very few in the past century to speak this truth.

Jesus, God's chosen spokesman and Prophet, sent by Him to proclaim a Good and Beneficial Message ("Gospel") made this perfectly clear in his ministry, but we fail to heed his message.

We instead choose an easy path, a path that simply adores and praises his name while continuing to seek greater wealth and prosperity, when his entire ministry was dedicated to calling people to come and die.

While surely we must metaphorically "die" to our sins, Jesus said we must lose our lives (sometimes literally) in order to be saved. And Jesus calls us to deny and sacrifice ourselves, not fill ourselves with pride or focus on self-gratification.

When Jesus tells us to do this DAILY, and to pick up our crosses, and take on the yoke of his teachings (Luke 9:23) he is asking us to serve others, to do good and Righteous Works, and prepare to sacrifice our entire fortunes, if necessary, for his sake.

We must question why modern American Christendom preach EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of this, because the idea that we need not give anything in return for our salvation is a myth.

Jesus said we are REQUIRED to forgive others if we expect God to forgive our shortcomings (sins.) (Matt. 6:14-15)

Jesus said we were not to simply CALL him Master, and that he would not be impressed by this, but only those who obeyed his words would be saved. (Matt. 7:21) Obedience is a WORK, assisted by God’s Spirit.

Jesus said we must seek God’s perfection and be morally perfect. (Matt. 5:48) and to seek after righteousness (Matt. 6:33.) And he made it clear that our discipleship will be measured by God by our obedience and righteous acts, done in humility and in obedience to Jesus, God’s Anointed One. (Matt. 16:27)

Jesus warned that his Followers would be hated, persecuted and even killed. This is far from the promise of ease, wealth and prosperity that today's Christendom claims he preached. (Matt. 5:11-12; John 15:18, 15:20)

And Jesus said, "Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." (Matt. 10:38) This is not merely “belief,” which is only the starting-point of Faith.

Jesus calls not for mere adoration or love or spiritual ecstasy in the midst of spouting a "Sinner's Prayer" that is supposedly "enough" to get us a ticket into heaven. This is a commitment, a call to make Good Works a Sacrament and an offering to God in return for his Grace and gifts.

Jesus thought we were up for a challenging faith like this. We must believe he was right.

Selected Scripture:

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” Luke 6:46

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me,” Luke 9:23

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matt. 11:29

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?’” Mark 8:34-36

“Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”  Matt. 10:38

“And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Mark 10:23

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33)

"Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matt. 5:11-12

“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Matt. 25:37-40

“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” Matt. 16:27

Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Costly Faith #Jesus Calls Us To Follow! #JesusFollowers


"Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:27-31)

What does Jesus mean when he says, "Counting the costs?"

Too many people are willing to believe in a God that requires nothing – no work, to time, no money, no effort, and no works of love; a religion that’s made easy, that requires less effort than is required to put a meal in a microwave.

They're more than ready to go to Heaven, as long as God carries them there without any requirement that they move their feet a single step.

But the inconvenient problem for those who believe this, and wish to continue to call themselves "Christian" or followers of Christ Jesus, is that this is not the religion Jesus preached. That’s not the path he calls us to walk. It's not the life he wishes us to lead in this life. And it doesn't even lead to eternal salvation with God, our Father.

If people really put a faith in God at the center of their lives, and believed that Jesus himself lays out this religion in his words and example, then they would find no work for God too hard, no self-denial too severe, and no offering of service in the name of God’s chosen Son, Jesus to be enough.

Jesus spoke about costly, righteous obedience so holy that it would cause people to hate us, and a Godly kingdom here on earth that requires us to act righteously, loving even our enemies. God would then reward us with Heaven, based only on our deeds, and if we repent of our sins and shortcomings,  a gracious and forgiving God will forgive us.

That’s a salvation that is not easy, lazy or cheaply obtained with our vain words and lengthy prayers (Matt. 6:7; 7:21.)

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 that are unused, and go unapplied, are exactly the same - useless.

Jesus never said that salvation would come without cost. He never said it would require no effort, or that it cannot or must not be earned. In fact, he said the opposite. Repeatedly.

His parables, including this one about the costs involved in building a tower, all point to a costly faith – a faith that requires us to give all we have to serving God by loving and serving both Him and our fellow human beings.

If faith costs nothing, and salvation can be achieved without effort, what "costs" must we count?

If effort and self-sacrifice is not required of us by God, then of what "costs" does Jesus speak regarding the tower in this parable?

If the wide and easy path is the path condemned by Jesus, why do so many seek it?

Those who don't plan, or don't count the costs, or don’t believe there ARE costs in achieving eternal salvation deserve to be mocked, just as those who would build a tower without considering the costs would deserve to be mocked, says Jesus.

And those who don’t consider ALL they have to be on the line when following Jesus should reconsider calling themselves by his name. We must be willing to share all, give all, and do all in order to follow the Paths of Righteousness and, ultimately, eternal Salvation Jesus calls us to follow.

"Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." (Luke 12:48.) Does this sound like the words of someone advocating and approving an easy, lazy faith, to be rewarded by God with a cheaply obtained eternal life?

God said at Jesus' baptism, when He adopted Jesus as his anointed Son and appointed him as our Example and Savior, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him." (Matt. 17:15.) We should, then, listen to and believe Jesus’s words, both here and elsewhere, when he says we must obey God's commands and follow his own example, doing all things he has done in obedience to our Creator.

God chose this perfectly obedient human being to be our example in all things. We therefore must make every effort to humbly and honorably seek to follow Jesus in obedience to his life's pattern, which pleased God so much.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

#Jesus Says: Use Your God-Given Gifts #JesusFollowers


With his teachings, #Jesus spoke about the great, powerful gifts given to human beings by God, and how we are to use them ACTIVELY to do Good for others.

Jesus, in his parables and sayings, explains that to us much has been given. Much, also, is required of us in return. By this way, we become the mature and perfect Beings that God wishes us to become.

His Parable of the Talents shows this most clearly. We are given gifts by God and are called to use them. Putting them in the ground, or keeping them unused, isn't profitable to the Kingdom of God, nor does it grow our spirits.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that we have both the ability and duty to act to serve and love others, even strangers.

Jesus says that we, as young children, are pure in spirit, able to love the way God wishes us to love as adults (Matt 19:14)

Jesus called us to bring forth good treasure from our hearts and turn it into Good Works in the world (Matt. 12:35.) God is the Author of our first measure of Goodness in our hearts. He calls on us to nurture and replenish it daily.

Jesus says that we may seek the spiritual completion (perfection) of God (Matt. 5:48), that we may forgive as God forgives, and that we may be as merciful as our Father in Heaven is merciful (Luke 6:36)

Knowing all this, we can't call Jesus our lord ("master") and ignore what he commands us to do. He has made it clear that God has equipped us to do Good Works, and calls us to go serve others to the best of our natural, God-given abilities.

Giving of ourselves is not a zero-sum game. Serving others, as Jesus calls us to do, doesn't empty us, it fills us, with joy.

Helping others brings us closer to God and to emulating the example God gave us, Jesus, whom He anointed and chose at his Baptism for that purpose. 

We are likewise chosen and sent out to act, daily building up God's spiritual Kingdom.

Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30.) That’s complete and total love that is demonstrated in our active Good Works, not just lip service or weak emotionalism that fades by Sunday afternoon when the churches are empty again.

Jesus and our Heavenly Father, God, have become for many mere SYMBOLS - psychological crutches on which we throw all our work and give THEM our moral tasks. Millions drive to churches to chant and praise Jesus' name and "finished work", all the while, averting their eyes as they pass the homeless, the sick, the discouraged, the grieving widow, the hungry, and the ill-clothed living among them. And we wonder why most people under 30 view traditional Christians as hypocrites!

"Do less" or "do nothing" are easy to sell to today's pew-dwellers, especially Americans. Jesus, by contrast, said we are capable of doing Great things, and called us to go do them. Jesus Followers who hear his words and obey them will seek to actively serve others, using their God-given gifts.

It is clear from the teachings of Jesus that we were created for a purpose: to do more - to do ALL WE CAN - to serve and love one another. This is the reason why we were saved by Jesus from the ignorance of our true Nature, in order to be the beings that God created us to be.

To deny that Jesus taught a Gospel of Good Works and active service is to deny his Gospel entirely. Doing good on behalf of others stands at the very core of the Gospel Jesus preached.

Our Nature isn't that of creatures so damaged that we cannot turn our face to God and repent of past misdeeds or weaknesses. 

Our Nature is one of Beings who were created with Free Will, able to know and understand our true mission, outlined clearly in the words and demonstrated perfectly in the life of one of us: Jesus. He says this is the way of God. Why would we second guess him?

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Excuses For Not Doing Good Answered #JesusFollowers

The duty of doing good to others, everyone will admit in the abstract; but it is not as uniformly performed as it ought to be, even by professing "christians." There are many discouragements in the way of beneficence, which make some well-disposed people useless members of society, and which partially paralyze the efforts of those who wish and strive to do good. 

Το consider and, if possible, to remove a few of these discouragements, and thus to cherish in readers a spirit of active and cheerful benevolence, will be my object in the following essay.

1. The benevolence of many is plagued by doubts as to the expediency of most of the common forms of charity. All will agree that good ought to be done; but hardly any two people agree as to the best way of doing it. One says,  "Individual effort is worse than useless. The principle of association lies at the foundation of all effective charity. You must do good with others or you can do nothing." 

Another says, "Don't trust the judgment of large groups. The funds of benevolent societies are always either squandered or misspent. If you want to do good, seek out your own objects; and do it yourself.' In the same way,  if you attempt a choice between the numerous benevolent projects, you may find objections to all of them. Would you aid in the general diffusion of knowledge? 

Would you give your money or goods to feed the poor? They may spend your gifts, and be made more wretched, not more comfortable, by your charity. 

Thus many people argue about the numerous ways of doing good; and at last, bewildered in the vain search after some form of beneficence, are ready to cry with the Psalmist: who will show us any good? Who will teach us how we may gratify our benevolent impulses to some undoubtedly good purpose."

This is difficult, but it ought not to discourage anyone from attempting to do good.

To every such enterprise there may be objections. If you can weigh the arguments for and against any particular charity, and determine to your own satisfaction that it will not do much good and is attended with little injury, it may be your duty not to help it, however strongly you are urged so to do. 

And if, among all the ways for doing good, you find none with which you can agree, stand apart from all of them. But remember, your objection to their ways is no excuse for  neglecting the duty; and there are still ways open for you, alone, to be useful. 

And as long as so wide a field of charity is open to you, the fact that many of the ways in which others attempt to do good are manifestly faulty is no reason why you should not be active in doing good.

2. Another discouraging thing that prevents many people from engaging in works of active usefulness is the feeling that they can do only a little. "If," they say, "we had the capacities and means that others have, we would gladly devote ourselves to ddoing good; but we are able at best to do very little."

When you offer this excuse, what do you mean by "little?" In the material and the spiritual world, things are great or small only by comparison; and the way that any particular object appears small in comparison with others is far from making it worthless. 

A lighthouse shines over a few miles of the ocean, and now and then saves a vessel from shipwreck, does just a little good when we compare it with the pole star, which guided those who first launched a boat upon the waves, and still shines over the whole Northern hemisphere. But would we, for this reason, demolish all lighthouses? 

And that same star, how insignificant its twinkling, how trivial its use, when we compare it with the sun at noon, enlightening every home, cheering our hearts, guiding the ways of all the earth! 

But would you for this reason blot out the pole-star from the heavens? "No," you would say, 'let the lesser lights shine, for they are useful to us, though the greater be infinitely more so." And the same reasoning holds in the spiritual world. 

You excuse yourselves from doing what you can for the good of your brethren, on the ground that you can do but little. On the same ground, all the benefactors of humanity in past times might have excused themselves from doing the good that they have done

In the same way, all the benefactors of humanity in past times might have excused themselves from doing the good.

You say in despair: how little good can we do compared with what one wealthy person has done!" but the good that each of us can do, compared with what one has done, is infinitely greater than what that one person has done, when compared with the blessings derived from Jesus of Nazareth, the friend, not of a single class of people on a single continent, but of all people, everywhere. 

But one who does good for others, does it in the sight and at the command of God. and with Him a person is accepted, not according to the reputed greatness or littleness of what they do, but according to their ability.

But to look at the subject in a merely human point of view. You say, reader, that you can do only a little good. If there are a million people who can do as much good as you can, and no more, multiply the little that you can do by a million, and will that still be a little? 

No, it will be immense. But each of these million people may draw back on the same excuse you do, and thus an immense amount of good remain undone. 

But if you, if each one of these million people would say: 'I can only do only a little, but that little, for God's sake, I will do,' what a vast difference it will make in the amount of good done in the world! It is thus, by numerous small sums, that great aggregates are produced; and these small sums are needed to make the sum total of good great. 

There are only a few that can do much good; the greater part of the good done in the world is done by those who act alone, but do little.

You excuse yourselves from doing what you can for the good for others, on the ground that you can do but little. In the same way, all the benefactors of humanity of the past might have excused themselves from doing the good that they've done.

Look around you, among those who are the most actively useful, to whom the anxious apply for counsel, the needful for aid, the widow and the fatherless for protection, the sick and dying for care, for sympathy, for christian instruction. 

Will you not find among the foremost of these sons and daughters of charity some who, though rich in faith, are poor as to this world's goods, humble in rank, of limited information, of feeble mental powers? 

Cultivate a fervent spirit of brotherly love, and, though the means of your charity may appear small, you may yet be eminently useful.

Again, you say that you can do but little good. When you say so, do you speak of good appertaining to the body or the soul?

The good that can be done to the frail, perishable body is at best but little. Not so with that which is done to the immortal spirit. Not so with religious charity. That acts upon eternity; and must therefore, when it confers any good, confer a great good. 

Finally, can you do only a little good? If so, God requires only little of you. Do that little, and your reward shall be great.

3. Another discouragement to benevolent effort and especially to religious charity is found in the way that the results of individual beneficence can't be traced. 

Your little stream flows into the great ocean of charity, mingles with its waters, and you cannot follow its current any farther, or see what end it reaches and what good it does.

But here the way of duty is very plain. You are commanded to do good, and God has promised a blessing upon your efforts. No matter whether you see the blessing or not.

Adapted from EXCUSES FOR THE NEGLECT OF BENEVOLENT EFFORTS CONSIDERED. (1834) By Rev. Andrew P. Peabody (1811-1893)