It is easy to talk about following Jesus but sometimes those around us think we are a little odd. How do we know what to think, do and become to be sure we are truly following Jesus in spite of what is going on around us? What does it really mean to follow Jesus? Good thing for us, Jesus explained it for us!
A few weeks ago we began talking about Jesus speaking the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. This was one of the few parables he actually interpreted for his followers, and in that interpretation he revealed it was a prophecy about the difficult future of Christianity. He spoke of false Christians and an entire age when the true and false would grow together – outwardly indistinguishable from one another - until the "harvest" time. We traced some of the corrupting influences through the long history of the church and began to see how the gospel was treated (and mistreated) along the way. Jesus, after speaking the Wheat and the Tares Parable, spoke two other parables. We believe they further described the corrupted condition of Christianity. So, what do these other parables tell us? Are we in danger of being deceived? Is the gospel even intact here and now in our present world?
Jesus gave many prophecies and you might be surprised to learn that some of them gave his followers then and now a warning about what would happen with this new movement he started. Christianity corrupted! What did Jesus predict and can we see that around us today?
The world is systematically becoming a dark place. It is not that people are purposely looking to dwell in darkness. It is that people - many people - have come to believe in things that had their origin in darkness and treachery. Wherever you look you can see the subtle creeping in of thinking, philosophies and actions that do not reflect the wholesome goodness of godly righteousness; but they rather engulf all in their path in a pervasive and deepening gloom that is labeled as a "new understanding" of what is good and acceptable. Jesus emphatically told his followers to be the "light of the world," to be that "city set on a hill for the whole world to see." So, how are we doing with that? Is Christianity truly the light of the world or have we misrepresented and failed the light of the Gospel? Is the world supposed to see our light and come to it or are we simply off track in our understanding?
Jesus loves you! This is a true, simple and potentially life-changing statement. Once we accept what that three-word sentence actually means, it can become a steering mechanism for everyday of our lives, pointing us to righteousness, godliness and self-sacrifice. Jesus loves you. Pointed and refreshing, but what does it really mean? Does Jesus’ love for us guide us in our everyday experiences? Yes! Does his love for us mean that he wants the best for us? Of course! Okay, so if he wants the best for us does that refer to comfort and abundance in our lives? Does Jesus’ love for us bring us to better living conditions, more financial stability, a much better present and a brighter future? The answers to these questions will vary wildly depending on whose brand of Christianity you look at and this just confuses the matter. Instead of asking different Christians about the role of comfort and abundance in a Christian’s life, let’s find the answer from Jesus’ own teachings and the Apostle’s own words.
Trust is a tricky thing. In some instances it comes to us with ease – as children we typically trust our parents above all others. As we become adolescents we often lose that trust, because we have replaced it with trusting our friends who are obviously much cooler and smarter than our parents. When adults, the door once again opens to trusting our parents because, well, because they have somehow become smart again! Now, let’s look at trust from the other side. Parents will or will not trust a child based upon what they see in them regarding maturity and integrity. A child really must earn their parent’s trust and that usually takes time and evidence. It is the same with God? We obviously should trust Him at all times and for all things. The real question here is can – should - God trust us? What must we do or be to warrant our Father in Heaven truly trusting in us?
Equal pay for equal work. When you hear that statement, you think – who wouldn’t think that is a good idea? Who in their right mind would argue against such a thing? Did Jesus teach us a contrary lesson to this principle of equality? When we read the parable of the workers in the vineyard, it sure seems to be teaching that God cares more about playing favorites than about treating people equally. Is that really the lesson that Jesus is teaching here?
For a Christian, following Christ is supposed to be a way of life. It is supposed to dominate our thinking and actions, which means it is supposed to dominate our attitude as well. This can be a problem, because we often do not focus on our attitude – instead we just use whatever attitude we might have at the moment to dictate what our thoughts and actions will be. What drives our attitude? What makes, shakes or breaks it? How can we drive our attitude so it can drive us to Christ?
Life can be likened to a house. Some houses are spacious and elegant – people tend to notice them when they go by. Some houses are smaller, functional and more basic – people tend to look past them when they go by. When you think about it, whether the house is elegant or basic, the most important part of it is its foundation. What that foundation is made of and built upon has a direct bearing on how long that house is able to endure. So, what about YOUR life – what is your foundation made of and what is it built on? Is your Christian life able to weather any storm?
We all know that Jesus came to save the world from sin and death. We all know that Jesus opened the way to heaven for his truest followers. We all also know that Jesus taught frequently about “The Kingdom of Heaven”. What we may not know is what he meant by that phrase, because it is used in a variety of ways that seem to contradict one another. So, how do we figure out what Jesus was really talking about when he spoke of “The Kingdom of Heaven”?