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Showing posts with label Spiritual Growth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spiritual Growth. Show all posts

Monday, April 22, 2024

Trials and Temptations

Introduction
We’re working our way through a study of the Epistle of James—lesson by lesson.  Last week, we discovered the writer of James was the brother of the Lord Jesus.  He was the biological son of Mary and Joseph and grew up in the same household as Jesus.  At first, he didn’t believe in Jesus.  But after Jesus died and rose from the grave, James believed and became one of the leaders of the early Christian church. 

The Epistle of James is short—only 5 chapters—but it is packed full of powerful, practical wisdom.  The reading today is a perfect example.  In just these few verses, we have several words of advice.  Let’s go back through each of them.

James 1:2-4
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

Joy is not the emotion most of us would associate with trials.  Yet, James suggests that trials are not just obstacles but opportunities—opportunities to grow in faith and endurance.  These difficulties test our faith, and through perseverance, our character is refined and strengthened. And a mature faith equips us to handle life's challenges with a steadier hand and a more hopeful heart. 

James is not suggesting we become masochists—who seek out and derive pleasure from painful ordeals.  We’re not happy about the trials, but can be overjoyed about the fruit we gain when we trust God in the midst of our trials.  James says they make us perfect, complete, needing nothing.

And consider this:  You will never get to go through the trials of life ever again in eternity.  We often talk about how great eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven witll be, where there will be no more sickness or suffering or pain.  But we often forget, God put us on this earth for a reason.  And we only get to experience life in this way (broken as it is) one time for maybe 80-90 years.  We never get to do this again.  Let's not miss this once in an eternity opportunity to learn and grow from the struggles we face.

Slides – James 1:5-8
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.  He will not rebuke you for asking.  But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.  Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

2 Points
James gives two points of practical advice here.  First of all, when you’re going through trials:  ask for God’s wisdom.  That’s not what we normally do.  We may ask for God to take away the challenge; heal us; make the problem go away; etc.  But James says, “Ask for wisdom.”  Proverbs 3:14 says wisdom is better than silver and gold.  In other words, it one of the most precious things you can gain in life.  Don’t miss the precious chance to gain wisdom through your trials just because you want God to make your life easy.

The second point James makes is a warning.  Make sure you’re putting your faith in Jesus alone and not the world.  People have a tendency to want to hedge their bets.  Let’s take an example:  suppose you are facing a huge trial—maybe you have cancer.  So you pray for Jesus to heal you.  But while you’re at it, you decide it can’t hurt to pray to the Muslim god, Allah.  And you figure, you might as well pray to the Hindu gods of India and the native America gods and African gods of animism.  You figure, “I’ll take all the help I can get.”  James says, a person like that shouldn’t expect to “receive anything from the Lord.  Their loyalty is divided between God and the world…”  And he says, “They’re unstable.”  Let us never forget, there is only One True and Living God.  And He will not share you with any other supposed god.  You must be loyal to Him and Him alone.  You are either all in with Jesus Christ—who is Lord of all—or you are not in at all.

James 1:9-11
Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. 10 And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. 11 The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.

Let Go of Worldly Concepts of Wealth and StatusVerses 9-11 reminds everyone, regardless of your social or economic status, put your hope in God alone. The poor are reminded to take pride in their high position—because the Lord Jesus Christ lifts them up.  The rich are reminded of their vulnerability—like a wildflower, their wealth will fade away.  They could lose it in the blink of an eye.  In fact, they will lose it all when they die.  For whatever wealth you have in this life will be gone forever in the next.  You cannot take your possessions with you.  In heaven, we will all be on equal social and economic footing. 

This passage calls us to embrace humility, recognizing that our true value comes from our relationship with God, not our earthly status or possessions.  It’s a liberating mindset—reminding us all to live authentically and with compassion, appreciating our blessings and empathizing with others regardless of their or our circumstances.

And then in verses 12-15, James tells us the blessings that will last forever actually come from the trials of this life.

James 1:12-15
12 
God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 13 And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. 14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

Tests and Temptations
While our earthly wealth and treasures will fade away like flowers in a field, the blessings we inherit from testing and temptation will last forever.  These become a crown of life if we endure and are faithful. 

God is the giver of all good things.  God does not tempt us.  Temptation comes from the Devil and from our own selfish, internal desires.  God uses both the tests and temptations we face in life for our own good—to expose and root out the ungodly attitudes and characteristics inside us keep us from being all we are meant to be.  And when we endure trials, our faith grows stronger and we learn endurance.

Slides – James 1:16-18
16 
So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. 18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.

Summary
Today, we've explored how trials can be a source of joy, how wisdom from God is our priceless aid,
how humility guides our conduct, and how perseverance leads to divine rewards.

This week, I challenge each of you to reflect on the trials you are facing.  Can you see them as opportunities for growth?  Seek God's wisdom in prayer, approach life with humility, and strive to persevere.

We say we believe in Jesus.  We believe He faced the cruel cross of Calvary.
We believe He rose from the grave.  His death and ressurection won our freedom and eternal life.
Now, let’s do more than just say we believe.  Let’s put our faith into action.
Let's live out our faith, embracing each day with courage and hope,
counting all trials as joy, because they lead to eternal rewards that we will possess forever.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Hello. My Name Is James.

Introduction
Today, I'm begin a study through the Epistle of James.  James is a power packed letter filled with practical advice for living as a Christian in an unchristian world.  Therefore, we are going to take out time and work our way through the letter slowly, lesson by lesson so we don't miss anything, because everything in this letter is important.  I invite you to follow along each week as we learn everything we can from this short but important book in the New Testament.  Let's start at the very beginning.

James 1:1
This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad.
Greetings!

Writing Letters
My wife and I wrote a lot of letters to each other when we were dating.  In high school, we would pass notes back and forth regularly.  Then I moved away for college and we wrote each other letters every week.  We still have those letters packed away in boxes somewhere in storage.

Much of the New Testament in the Bible is a collection of letters written by early church leaders.  Today, we may think of letters as out of date.  Few write letters anymore, other than for very official purposes.  Most chose to use email or instant messages.  But in New Testament times, writing letters was sort of a cutting edge new technology for common people.  It is true that people wrote letters way back into very ancient times--millennia before the New Testament.  But ancient letter writing was typically reserved for royal officials because writing materials were very expensive, few were literate to read and write, and there was no post service to send letters long distances.


But by New Testament times, several factors came together at just the right time to aid the spread of the Good News about Jesus Christ.  Writing materials became cheaper and available to common people.  More people could read using the common Greek language almost everyone spoke to some degree.  And due to the expansive Roman Empire with well maintained roads and shipping routes, mail could be sent from one end of the Empire the other.  The writers of the New Testament took full advantage of this to spread the message that Jesus, the Son of God, had been crucified and then rose from the grave.


You may have learned in school letters have a general structure.  First, a letter has a heading that tells who it's from and who it's to.  Then, there is the salutation where you say, "Dear So and So..."  Next comes the body of the letter that contains the main points, followed by the closing:  "Sincerely, Your Best Friend Chris."  We often find similar patterns in the letters from the New Testament, like James.


Most letters in the New Testament are written by the Apostle Paul.  Paul was a prolific letter writer and many of his letters have been preserves in the Bible.  however, the Epistle of James by a man named James, who had his own style or writing and his unique perspective on living as a faithful Christian.

Who is James?
Who is James?  In the letter, James says: "I am a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ."

What is a slave?  In 1st century Israel, a slave was typically considered property of the owner, lacking personal freedom and autonomy.  People entered slavery due to debt, poverty, as a penalty for crime, or possibly if conquered in battle.  While slaves sometimes had legal protections under various legal codes, they were still fundamentally bound to serve their masters' needs.  And since a slaves master was the one with all the power, abuse was rampant despite any laws on the books to protect slaves. 

We don't like the word slave is the 21st century.  Some Bible translations try to sanitize the word from the New Testament and change it to servant.  However, servant doesn't really capture the essence of the meaning the biblical writers were trying to convey.  Servant is too nice a word.  The Greek word the Bible uses is doulos, which  literally means bondservant, a person who sold themselves into slavery to repay a debt they had no means to repay.  A bondservant doesn't just work for their master; they are owned by their master.

Slavery is a dirty word to our ears for many reasons. People were never meant to be owned by other people.  It is an abomination.  Another reason against slavery is it creates a serious imbalance of power. Human masters cannot be trusted to hold so much power over another human being—even if that person willingly submits to being a slave.  People sometimes can't even be trusted to properly care for a dog or cat, let alone another human being.  Perhaps that is why it is such a fearful responsibility to become a parent.  A parent has nearly absolute power and authority over a fragile human life--their child.  And parents do not always know what to do nor do they always chose the best thing to do.  Yet this is the nature of human life.  Parents beget children and (hopefully) do their best to exercise benevolent authority over their children for nearly two decades until their children are old enough to become independent.

James self-identifies as a slave of--not another human being, but--God and the Lord Jesus Christ.  And based on Scripture, God is a good and worthy Master.  He always seeks the good of His slaves.  He doesn’t treat people like slaves.  In fact, Jesus (who is God) said in John 15:15, I no longer call you slaves, but friends…”  But James calls himself a slave. 

Who is this James?  Do we know anything about him?  We do!  And it is fascinating!
The Bible says Jesus had brothers and sisters.  Matthew 13:55 says His 4 brothers were James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude.  James is always listed first, which typically means he was the oldest of Jesus’ younger brothers.  After Jesus was crucified, James would be the eldest living brother of Christ, responsible for being the head of the household.  And according tradition and most scholars, the James who wrote the Epistle of James was Jesus' younger brother. 

As far as we know, Jesus never wrote anything down Himself; or if He did, none of it survived.  So we don't have anything written directly from Jesus.  But in this letter from James, we may have the closest thing to the hand of Jesus.  James grew up with Jesus, spent some 20-30 years with Him.  He knew him through all the years that the Scripture writes about as well as what the Scripture leaves unmentioned.  And as we read the letter of James, we're reading the thoughts of a man who knew Jesus deeply and personally the way only a brother sometimes can.

Now, James and his other brothers didn’t believe in Jesus at first.  Maybe it's hard to think of your brother in such divine terms as being "the Son of God".  Can you imagine growing up the brother of Jesus Christ?  I can imagine Mary getting upset with James from time to time over something stupid he did (mistakes all mortal people make).  Maybe, in frustration, she said something like, “Why can’t you be more like your brother Jesus!”  And maybe James smarted off to Mary with, “Oh!  Jesus is so perfect!  You act like he walks on water!”  Of course, I'm being facetious, but on a serious note, I guess it might have been hard to grow up in the shadow of "the Son of God" or to think of your older brother as the long awaited Messiah.

At any rate, Jesus' brothers did not believe in Him at first.  Mark 3:20 says Jesus’ brother thought He was out if his mind.  They came and tried to take Him away so He didn't stir up trouble.  But at some point, probably after Jesus actually died and rose from the grave as He said He would, James became a believer.  You might think James would trumpet his status as Jesus’ brother.  “Listen to me.  I’m Jesus’ brother!”  But James doesn’t do that at all.  Instead, he humbles himself and says,  “I’m a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

To Whom Was James Writing?
Letters are written from someone to someone.  To whom was James writing?  He says, “I’m writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad.”  What does that mean?  

The term "Twelve Tribes" was a cultural term among Jewish people that recalled their tribal history.  They started out as twelve tribes and had often experienced trials and tribulations that scattered them abroad.  In fact, there were no longer 12 tribes.  10 of the tribes had been scattered into oblivion when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians.  All the inhabitants of the northern 10 tribes were carried away and never seen again as a distinct people group.  The 2 tribes that remained were Judah and Benjamin.  The Jewish people derive their name from the tribe of Judah.  And even they had experienced a great deal of "scattering" over the centuries.

At this stage in Christian history, almost all Christians were Jewish believers.  Scholars sometimes point out James was writing to Jewish Christians, not Gentiles Christians.  Some of you who are serious students of the Bible have probably heard that.  But that’s kind of a pointless argument.  Almost all Christians were “Jewish” at this point in Christian history.

The real point here is that believers (Christians) are being scattered because they are fleeing persecution.  The Jews who believed Jesus is the Messiah who rose from the grave are being kicked out of their churches (synagogues) by the Jews who didn't believe.  And at the same time, they are being ostracized in their communities, leading some to lose their livelihoods.  Others are being badly persecuted, some arrested.  Some are even being beaten or killed.  It was a difficult and dangerous time for Christians and many had to flee their homes and move away to new towns seeking safety.

God did not let these early Christians suffering go to waste.  As they are scatter, they go from town to town telling people about Jesus every where they go.  So Christianity is spreading, not being silenced.  And the Apostles, like Peter, James, and John as sending letters to these scattering Jewish Christians--creating a written record of the early Christian faith, which we have preserved in the New Testament of our Bibles.

Unfortunately, being scattered can make you feel lonely and really tests your faith.  You are tempted to just keep your mouth shut about Jesus, even though Jesus commanded His followers to speak up for Him.  And that’s one of the reasons James is writing—to encourage Christians who feel lost and lonely in a world that doesn’t have their same values.

Feel Like You Don’t Belong?
Do you ever feel like you don’t belong in a world where people seem so mean, angry, unloving, judgmental, and immoral?  I know I do sometimes.

The world around me right here in America is becoming foreign in many ways.  Sometimes it feels like common sense and common decency have been flipped upside down.  

But I know there are others around the world that have it even worse. I texted with a Christian friend who lives in Pakistan the morning I wrote this message.  He lives in a country that is 95% Muslim.  Many in that country who practice a very militant form of Islam think people like my Christian friend are crazy or guilty of blasphemy.  Christians are face discrimination, are frequently persecuted, mistreated, falsely accused, arrested, and even killed.  I know they often feel scattered, lonely, and discouraged.

If you ever feel like I do or like my friend in Pakistan, like a remnant of the faithful believers scattered in a lost and hostile world, James is a letter written to encourage you to be faithful and not give up.  But James is more than just clich├ęs and platitudes. James is a real talk.  In 5 short chapters, James shares powerful, practical wisdom about how to live as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. Whereas other writers often focus on philosophy and theology, James gets down to brass tacks and focuses how Christians live out faith in actions—not just beliefs.

Every paragraph in James is important.  So we’re going to take our time and work our way through James slowly, lesson by lesson.  And I hope you will come each week and pay close attention.  And I challenge you to go deeper in your walk with Jesus, deeper than just what you believe, as you learn to live out your Christian faith by what you do day to day.

Closing
James was Jesus’ brother.  But anyone who give their life to Christ and becomes a Christian is a brother of sister of Christ.  We are not alone.  We are part of a royal family—the family of God.  If you are a Christian, you are my brother, my sister.  You are not alone.  We are in this together. 

In the Old Testament, Jews inistiated their children into the people of God by circumcising their children on their 8th day.  For Christians, baptism is the sacred ceremony we use to initiate people into the family of God.  It is a sacrament Jesus told us to practice that God uses to pour out His grace upon us.  No one deserves God’s grace.  But He gives it freely to all who repent and seek His help.  

I want to close today by inviting your to become a Christian.  If you believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and Savior of the world who died on the cross and rose on the third day, then chose today to follow Him.  Turn away from your sin and turn to Jesus and He will save you.  You will become a child of God, my brother or sister.  And though you may sometimes feel alone in this hostile world, you will never actually be alone.  For you will be part of the family of God with brothers and sisters all over the world.  And even more important, Jesus will walk with you through everything you face by the Holy Spirit that lives inside you.  

And if you have if you have never been officially baptized and initiated into God's family, I invite you to schedule your baptism today.  If you live close to me, contact me and we will talk about how you can be baptized.  Or, find a faithful, Bible-believing church near you, and be baptized in obedience of Christ our Lord and in expectation of the grace baptism represents.

Finally, I challenge to read this blog each week as we work our way through the powerful letter of James.  I usually post my blogs each Monday.  I pray you will read and receive the blessings and guidance God wants to give through my feeble words.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Building on Rock vs. Building a Life That Lasts | Matthew 7:24-29

The Introduction
I have now preached twenty-three sermons from Jesus Sermon on the Mount from Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7.  Leave it to a Methodist preacher to take one of Jesus’ sermons and turn it into 23 sermons.  But Christ’s teachings are so important it was worth soaking in each one.

Let's list Jesus' lessons from the Sermon on the Mount:

  • He said you are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
  • And Jesus said He didn’t come to abolish the Old Testament Laws but to fulfill them.  So therefore, we should live righteously—just as He lives righteously.
  • We shouldn’t murder, but we shouldn’t even be angry or curse at people.
  • Not only should we avoid adultery, we shouldn’t even lust in our hearts.
  • We should be faithful to our spouse, not take revenge, and go so far as to love our enemies.
  • We must be generous and help the needy, not in order to impress people with wealth and generosity, but do it privately so no one even knows we are giving.
  • With that same attitude, we should pray and fast privately, so no one even knows we’re doing it.
  • Store up treasures in heaven where they won’t be corrupted or stolen.
  • And don’t worry about anything, but trust God to take of you.
  • You shouldn’t be judgmental, thinking your are better than anyone else.
  • But don’t throw your pearls to pigs.
  • Treat others as you would like them to treat you.
  • Because the gate to heaven is narrow and the path to life is difficult and few ever find it.
  • And we have to be careful of false prophets, because many will sneak up like wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing saying things people like to hear.  But we can tell who is a true prophet by the fruit they produce—because bad trees can’t produce good fruit.
  • And we should produce good fruit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Because these are the fruits of a true disciple.  
  • Not everyone who cries out “Lord! Lord!”  will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Only those who did the will of God the Father. 

These are the foundational teachings of Jesus Christ.  If we say we are Christians, these are the core teachings we follow.  And here’s how Jesus finished his sermon—Matthew 7:24-27.

Matthew 7:24-27
24 
“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

The Solid Foundation
Jesus says, “Any who listens to my teachings and follows is wise, like a person who builds a house on a solid rock.”  Now, we’ve just finished 23 sermons based on Jesus’ core teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.  They are challenging, but not difficult to understand.  If you build your life upon these teachings, your life will stand against anything. 

We will all face many trials and tribulations in this life.  But if your life is built upon the solid rock of Christ, you will not fall even when rains and floods and wind beat against you.  Now, you know we’re not talking about rain and floods and wind.  We’re talking anything that life can throw at you:  grief, divorce, depression, unemployment, alcoholism…  You can think of hundreds of trials and tribulations you might face in your life—whether they come in your own life or in the lives of people you love.  But when these trials come against you, you will not fall if your life is firmly build upon the solid rock of Christ’s teaching.

Even when cold, dark death comes to visit you (as it comes for ever person), you will not fall if your life is built firmly upon the rock of Christ’s teaching.  For everyone “…who believes in Jesus will not perish, but have eternal life.”

But I must also point out that Jesus says, “Any who listens to my teachings and follows is wise, like a person who builds a house on a solid rock.”  You’ll notice he says, listens and follows. 

There are many people who come to church every time the door is open.  They love the experience of being at church.  They love the music.  They love the people.  They may even love to hear the words of Jesus preached and read from the Bible.  But you can’t build a solid foundation on hearing alone.  You also have to follow.

James 1:22 says, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.”  Many people listen to the Word of God week after week, but never do the Word of God.  They are only fooling themselves.  It is critical we listen and follow Jesus’ teaching.  It is the only way our lives will be able to remain standing when the troubles of life assail us and when death finally comes to visit and we must face Jesus on our last day.

Sinking Sand
Jesus teaching is a solid foundation that can support your life and even lead you into eternal life in Heaven.  Everything else is sinking sand.  There are a lot of people who build their life on things beside Jesus teaching.  But it’s not a solid foundation.  It cannot stand.

You cannot build your life on a foundation of feelings, but so many try.  They base everything on how they feel.  Some even choose to follow Christ because of an emotional religious experience.  Maybe they went to a revival and heard the Word of God or some great spiritual music and it moved them and made them feel something wonderful and the experience led them to follow Christ.  But that cannot be the foundation--because the feelings change and sometimes fade.  We have highs and we have lows.  Feelings are good and can be (should be) part of our walk with Jesus, but they cannot be the foundation.

Some will say they found their faith on traditions instead.  They say traditions last generation after generation and are more permanent that feelings and emotional experiences.  Traditions can be a helpful part of our walk with Christ, but they cannot be the foundation.  Traditions change and sometimes they are wrong.  Sometimes we find our traditions are contrary to Scripture and must be discarded.  Other times our traditions lose their value when they now longer serve to connect us to Christ and the mission of His Church.  So tradition cannot be our foundation.

Others will say the build their life on ideas, reason and philosophy.  They want to use their intellect to build a reasonable foundation that doesn't rely on tradition or religion or superstition.  Some may even subscribe to the best ideas and knowledge of the modern era.  But these also are an inadequate foundation.  For we soon find we were wrong.  And the morals and values and philosophies of today are soon found by another generation to be out dated and rejected.  These too are sinking sand.

What about family?  Surely family is a sure foundation upon which we can build.  Well, family is very important.  Maybe it should be the walls or the roof or the carpet of our life, but it cannot be the foundation.  For our family is only human.  They cannot fill the void in our life that only God can fill.  And family members will disappoint, reject, or die (for they are only mortal).  Family cannot be a truly solid foundation.

Nor can the pursuit of pleasures, our careers, wealth, status, popularity, or anything else other than Jesus' teachings be the sure foundation we need to stand against the storms of life.  Everything else is sinking sand.  If you try to build your life and your faith upon them, they will fail and you will fall.

Believe in Jesus
We are told often in Church (and in the Bible), “Believe in Jesus and you will be saved.”  This is true.  I can quote many Scriptures that say this and I preach it.   But what does it mean to believe?

To believe Jesus means to trust Him enough to leave behind your life of sin and follow His way of living.  Jesus’ way of living is spelled out in the Sermon on the Mount (as well as the Gospels and the teachings of His people in the Bible).

James 2:14 puts it this way:  “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?”  You see, saving faith is listening to Jesus’ teachings and following them.

We all fall short, but God is gracious and forgiving.  In 1 John 1:8-9, it says:  “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  

So, as we end the message today—as we end this series of messages on Jesus Sermon on the Mount—I invite you to join me in a confession of our sins.  The words to this confession are taken the new Methodist hymnal "Our Great Redeemers Praise" on pages 738-739.  This is part of the Wesley Covenant Service.

The Confession
Leader:  We are those who seek to live as true disciples of Jesus Christ, but sometimes we fall short. Let us now examine ourselves before God, humbly confessing our sins and submitting our hearts so that we do not deceive ourselves and cut ourselves away from God. Let us pray:

People:  Father God, You have set forth the way of life through Your Son Jesus Christ, whom You love dearly. We shamefully confess that we have been slow to learn of Him and have been reluctant to follow Him. You have spoken and called to us but we have not listened. You have revealed Your beauty to us, but we have been blind. You have stretched out Your hands to us through our friends, but we have passed by them. We have accepted Your gifts and offered little thanks. We are unworthy of Your unchanging love.

Leader:  We now confess to you our sins.

Please forgive us for the poverty of our worship…

for the selfishness of our prayers…

for our inconsistency and unbelief…

for the ways we neglect fellowship and Your grace…

for our hesitation to tell others about Christ….

for the ways we deceive others…

People:  Forgive us for when we waste time and when we misuse the gifts you have given us. Forgive us for when we have made excuses for the wrong things we have done and when we have purposefully avoided responsibility.

Leader:  Forgive us that we have been unwilling to overcome evil with good and that we have not been ready to carry our cross. Forgive us that we have not allowed Your love to work through us to help others and that we have not made their suffering our own. Forgive us for those times when instead of working for unity we made it hard for others to live with us because of our lack of forgiveness, inconsiderate judgment, and quick criticism.

People:  Forgive us for when we have not tried to reconcile with others and when we have been slow to seek redemption.

Leader:  Forgive us also for these sins that we silently confess to you now.

Leader:  God, the Father of all mercies, is faithful to cleanse us from our sins and restore us to Christ’s image. Praise and glory be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.

Monday, March 11, 2024

A True Disciple

Introduction
I’ve been preaching through Jesus Sermon on the Mount from Matthew chapters 5-7.  These are the key precepts of Jesus’ message, revealing His core values for  His followers

My sermons for the last three weeks have been quite challenging.  I assure you, I would rather preach cheerful sermons.  But the texts from Jesus Sermon on the Mount have required I speak some harsh truths.

  • Matthew 7:13-14 revealed the highway to hell is broad because many people follow it, but the pathway to life is very narrow and only a few ever find it.
  • Last week I preached about telling true prophets from false prophets based on their fruit. We are called to bear love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
  • My message today is just as challenging (maybe even disturbing). It comes from Matthew 7:21-23.

Matthew 7:21-23
21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

A True Disciple
In these 3 verses, Jesus warns about a terrible reality many people will face on judgment day.  He says many people who thought they were following Jesus and going to Heaven will be shocked to find out Jesus never knew them, and they are turned away from Heaven. 

And that’s disturbing, because it makes you question: “Am I one of those who will be horrified to find out Jesus never knew me?  Will I be one of the unfortunate souls turned away when Jesus says:  Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.”

This brings us back again to the concerns raised in Matthew 7:13-14.  “The gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” 

Friends, the Message of Christ is very serious.  And we need to take it seriously.  So many dabble in religion as if it was an after thought of life.  They go to church whenever we feel like it.  If they pray, it is only when they are desperate and need something.  God is only an after thought if He is a thought at all.  Everyone has more important things to chase after than God.  

Friends, our relationship with God is the most important thing!  It will literally determine where you spend eternity--whether you will spend it in heaven with God or in Hell eternally separated from God. 

“I never knew you…”
Jesus warns one of the claims the damned will say on judgment day is, “We prophesied in your name…”   In other words, they said all the right things.  Maybe they even spoke on behalf of Lord Jesus—sharing His Word with others.  Others who are damned will claim, “We cast out demons in your name and did miracles in your name…”  These too will be cast into hell.  Why?

Jesus gives the answer in simple terms.  “I never knew you.”  Entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven starts with a real relationship—a relationship with Jesus.  It’s not about what you know.  It’s Who you know.  Jesus left the glory of Heaven to come to our broken world to be with us.  That’s the definition of one of His names we often sing about at Christmas is Emanuel; it means "God with us." 

Jesus did ministry with 12 Disciples.  He could have done it alone.  He didn’t need help.  But Jesus chose to work with 12 people to have relationships with them.  Furthermore, Jesus ate with sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, and other notorious sinners.  Jesus interacted with people.  He got to know people and built relationships.  Relationship is the most important thing to Jesus.  That’s how He knows people and saves people and heals people.

 

And that’s what Jesus wants with you—a relationship, to know you.  It’s what God has always wanted from the very beginning when He created us—a relationship.  But, because of sin, we turn away from God.  We chase after our own selfish ambitions instead of a relationship with God.


Matthew 11:28
Jesus came to invite us back.  He said:  “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  (Mt 11:28)

 

Jesus wants a real relationship with you—one where you talk every day and walk together, eat together, live together, serve together laugh and cry together.  Part of that relationship may include prophesying in His name and casting out demons and doing miracles in His name.  But it’s the relationship that’s really important.

 

It starts with a choice. Jesus wants a relationship with everyone. Some may think Jesus wouldn't want a relationship with you. Maybe you feel like you're not good enough or you've done something terrible and Jesus wouldn't want to be around you. But Jesus showed He loved everyone. He never shied away from anyone, no matter how bad they sinned.  Rich, poor, sinners, saints--Jesus loved them all and He still does today. There's nothing you have done or could ever do that would keep Jesus from wanting a personal relationship with you.

 

He stands at the door of your heart knocking.  But you have to open the door and let Him in.  And once Jesus comes onto your heart, you've got to walk with Him every day.  Are you spending time with Jesus every day in a real, personal relationship?  Some ways you can do that are through:

  • Prayer and Bible study, which are the heart of a relationship with Jesus.  Through prayer and Bible study we talk to Jesus and hear from Jesus.  We learn who He is and how He wants us to live.
  • Worship and Fellowship with Other Christians.  Just like Jesus called 12 Disciples to follow Him as a group, Jesus calls us to follow Him in a group with other believers.  We fellowship and and worship as a Church (which is a community of faith).  We have a relationship with each other adn with Jesus, together.
  • Serving.  Jesus came to serve, not to be served.  His followers serve alongside Jesus--giving ourselves to make more Disciples who also have a relationship with Jesus.  Jesus doesn't need our help, but graciously invites us to work alongside Him.  Serving together is part of how we relate with Jesus and each other. 

Matthew 7:21
The other key part of Jesus warning is in His statement in verse 21, which says, “Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.”  This statement connects to all the lessons we’ve studied from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount

(as well as everything Jesus taught in the Gospels and through His servants in the Bible).  Jesus tells us in the Bible how we are to live.  These are His teachings.  The Bible is the will of His Father in Heaven.  Are we living it?

 

God is gracious.  He understands we often misunderstand. We may read one thing in the Bible and totally misunderstand what Jesus wants us to do.  We may do the wrong thing.  But most people aren't even reading it to try and figure it out.  Most people aren't even trying.  Do you think willfully ignoring Jesus’ teachings in the Bible is “doing the will of God?”  Of course not.  It’s no wonder there will be so many people on Judgment Day crying,  “Lord! Lord!” and Jesus will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

Walking with Jesus and Doing God’s Will Go Together
Something else important needs to be said.  It’s this: Walking with Jesus and doing God’s will go together.  You really can’t separate them.  

You would think prophesying, casting out demons, and doing miracles in Jesus name must be “doing God’s will.”  Right?   Yet Jesus said many will tell Him they did all these very things in His name and Jesus will reply:  “I never knew you.”  Why is  that?  Maybe because Jesus didn’t tell them to do those things. 

Walking with Jesus means staying in tune with His daily instructions.  If He didn’t tell you to prophesy, don’t do it.  If He didn’t tell you to cast out a demon, don’t do it.  If He didn’t tell you to do a miracle, don’t do it.  Just because something sounds holy and impressive, doesn't mean Jesus told you to do it.  But do whatever He tells you to do--even if it's simple and unimpressive.

And if you truly have an intimate relationship with Jesus, the Holy Spirit will lead you to do everything Jesus wants you to do.  A true relationship with Jesus leads you to live for Him.  As you walk with Jesus, you become more accustomed to hearing His voice through the Holy Spirit.  And the Holy Spirit directs us exactly how to obey Jesus if we are listening.  Are you listening? 

Conclusion
Jesus words are unsettling today in His Sermon on the Mount.  “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.” 

It’s troubling.  It’s unsettling.  But that’s good. 
Because maybe it will motivate us to take our relationship with Jesus seriously.

Let me conclude with a summary of some practical things you can do to ensure you’re traveling on the pathway to eternal life and not blindly following the highway to hell.  

  • Ask Jesus to save you – decide to follow Him as Lord and start walking with Him. This is the very first step.  If you haven't already done so, please do this right now.
  • Pray and read your Bible – these are the heart of our relationship with Jesus. They are how we talk to and hear God.
  • Immerse yourself in Christian fellowship and worship.  If we are truly following Jesus, our most important social group will be other followers of Jesus.  We need each other.  
  • Listen to how the Holy Spirit is leading you to live and do it.  Practice following the Spirit's guidance every day as He:
    • leads your to forgive people who wrong you, just as Jesus forgave you,
    • teaches you to be kind and compassionate
    • enables you to be honest and ethical
    • prompts you to be a witness who share how Jesus is changing your life
    • calls you to serve.  God gives each one of us special gift so we can build up His church. Use them for the glory of God.
Prayer
"Lord Jesus, forgive us for the ways we have pushed You aside in favor of other things.  Thank You for inviting us to have a relationship with You so that we can know You and be known by You.  Help us to walk with You each day as we pray and study Your Word.  Surround us with Your people, so our fellowship and worship will honor You and build up our faith.  Lea us to know and obey God's law and live for You every day.  We ask these things in Your most holy name.  Amen."