We have established that life here, in the Promised Land of Christ's salvation, is not going to be a cake walk, despite what many pastors preach these days. I find it rather incongruous that those who are the most public about following Jesus are the least likely to be living in imitation of His life. They have huge wealthy churches, lots of toys and engage in a rather prideful parading of their wealth. Of course, why wouldn't their congregants want to give generously to such a ministry?
I can hear someone say... "If God has so blessed Pastor So-and-So, because of the principles he follows, then I will blessed if I do likewise! So I will support such an in-touch-with-God kind of ministry, and while I wait for the showers of blessings (materially? You betcha!) that this pastor promises, I will live vicariously through him--enjoying his wealth as if it were my own. You can't argue with success, can you?"
But... Why not send the money directly to any reputable charity? If God is in the business of blessing those who give lavishly with an eye on receiving back a hundredfold from Him, then any charity will do. Right? Wrong. The money's destination is always the ministry, which feeds the followers a fantasy of material blessings and a pain-free life right here, right now. The pastor lives the life that he promises is available to all, if they give to him. All in the name of Jesus.
Wow. Is it any wonder the church in America is losing people? There is a truly troubling disconnect between the life of Jesus that is preached from the pulpit of the modern church--Jesus sacrificing and going to the cross--and the life promised to His followers: a life full of health, wealth and prosperity, all delivered to us by our faith, and financed by generous giving.
Some key verses immediately come to mind from Matthew, chapter 7, verses 13-29:Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (7:13-14)
It's not easy to follow Jesus, and if it feels easy, you may be going down a road that will leave you following a person, a church or yourself. Jesus identifies Himself as the Gate; if people hated Him, why do we think He wants us, as His followers, to have public adulation, no challenges and jet airplanes? So, who does Jesus identify as the wide gate-builders and the broad road-builders? The people who claim to speak in His Father's name but who do not know His Father:
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. (7:15-20)
Identifiable not, you notice, by the fruit they have, but by the type of person that they are. The fruit comes from what is coded from within the plant; Jesus may be echoing the words of Genesis that trees and vegetation will produce seeds "according to their kinds." The heart brings forth what is stored there; Jesus made that clear. So, false teachers, whose motivation is control, profit and a cover for sin, cannot camouflage who they are for very long.
But, I can hear someone say... "But wait! Look at all the good they do! C'mon! You can't argue with success! They heal people! They help people unlock the Laws of Prosperity that God promises us! They walk the walk and talk the talk--I look up to them for how to live as a Christian!"
Really? People can hide their fruit behind what they do for a long time. But a Day will come when who they were utterly trumped what they did:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (7:21-23)
I can hear someone say, "Then, how do I live this life? How do I follow You if I shouldn't look to others to model it for me, for there are those who are modeling it poorly or contrarily to You?"
Jesus answers us:
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (7:24-29)
His words are our authority, and not, just as in Jesus' day, those who claim to be speaking on God's behalf. Listen, learn but then search the Scriptures yourself. Learn of Him, His faithfulness, His promises and His strength that will give you courage to face the day. Because the rain, wind and raging waters will come. Jesus isn't proposing that following Him is a wealthy, healthy, heaven on earth thing.
He tells us, straight out, there will be storms. Battles. Challenges. Hatred of us. Contempt. Utter befuddlement.
But, while He did not promise a cake walk, He did promised we would overcome. Why? Because He did:
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
So, I propose we tour the Gospels to see what battles Jesus faced, and how, if we follow Him, we will too. Why?
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ (John 15:18-25)
I will be using The Narrated Bible in Chronological Order to guide us as we go. We will see how Jesus' life unfolds and what He faced at each stage. You will find comfort here; there is nothing you have faced, are facing or will face that He didn't face while He was here:
Seeing that we have a great High Priest who has entered the inmost Heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to our faith. For we have no superhuman High Priest to whom our weaknesses are unintelligible—he himself has shared fully in all our experience of temptation, except that he never sinned. (Heb. 4:15, Phillips)
I am looking forward to this. In this time of confusion, and lots of opinion parading around as fact and spiritual wisdom, it will be refreshing to sit and His feet and read the Word together. That's what a disciple, a talmid, does: Every moment of our lives is lived following our Teacher, our Rabbi--listening, learning and doing as He does.
Note to my readers: I try to post each week; but I didn't do real well with my first round of the Covid vaccine. I developed mild symptoms and decided to have a Covid test. I am waiting on the results. I can hardy wait for the second one! Weeee! So, I apologize for this post's delay.