Pure Religion!

-An Orphan’s Story!

I married the granddaughter of an orphan! When my wife’s grandfather was a young boy, his father died; and, his mother remarried.  Unfortunately, her new husband out NOT to be the kind of man she thought he was.  He held no regard for her children; and, when she died, he considered them disposable; and, had them removed from his home. My wife’s grandfather was a 14-year old boy when the authorities placed him in an orphanage where he was physically abused; until it was discovered and he was removed and placed in a foster-care home where he was loved & cared for. Eventually, he came to faith in Jesus Christ, married my wife’s grandmother & they established a Christian home together. A home that produced a legacy of faith with children, grandchildren & great-grandchildren who’ve grown up loving Jesus. What a great story, right! An “orphan’s story” with a happy ending!

-An Orphan Crisis!

Unfortunately, that’s the exception. There is an orphan crisis in our world! I was shocked to discover that there are more than 153 million orphans worldwide! That’s staggering! If orphans were a country, of their own, their population would rank 9th in the world, ahead of Russia! 100 million of them live or work on the streets. They survive by selling flowers or cigarettes, by watching cars; and, many sell their bodies, for sex, or engage in criminal activity. Many, of these street children, are subjected to abuse, neglect, exploitation; or, in extreme cases, are murdered by “death squads” paid by their governments to “clean up” the image of their cities.

-It’s Easy To Become Hard-Hearted!

So, why am I sharing all this with you? Why should you care? It’s so easy to become hardened to all the images, isn’t it? We’re bombarded with the infomercials! The sad faces. The sad music. The compelling stories. All meant to move us to reach into our wallets ad pay up! And, we can try and rationalize that so many of the agencies out there, who claim to be helping the orphan population, are just siphoning off huge amounts, from the giving, to support elaborate lifestyles for their big-name CEO’s. So, let me tell you why this is important to you! Because we can’t just ignore what God’s Word says about it! God has an opinion & we need to listen!

-Look After Orphans!

It’s a statement inspired by God’s Holy Spirit— “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” James 1:27.  What was that? “PURE RELIGION” is looking after orphans & widows? Is James supporting a salvation of good deeds? No, he’s not! The book James authored dovetails quite nicely with Paul’s book to the Romans. James is NOT saying that your good deeds, like caring for orphans & widows, will result in salvation! Rather, that the result of genuine, saving faith, in Jesus—or, “pure religion” he calls it—is to love others! Like orphans, widows & the marginalized of society! God gives us a heart to love & serve them!

 

The Humility Of Jesus!

-Our Lack Of Humility!

Our general failure to serve others, as Jesus did, stems from our failure to humble ourselves as Jesus did! As Jesus washes the feet, of His disciples, He finally comes to Peter— “Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, are You washing my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.’ Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you’” John 13:6-10.  Peter’s words express his shame; that, he had been unwilling to humble himself & wash the feet of the disciples, “Lord, You’re not going to wash my feet, are you?” His words express a brokenness among the disciples now.

-Overcome By Selfishness!

They were overcome by their individual selfishness & humiliated by their pride that kept them from washing each other’s feet! And, the occasion provided Jesus the opportunity to exhibit true humility! That seems to be Jesus’ intent when He tells him,  “…you don’t understand now, but you will know after this.”  “Peter, you’re protesting because you’re ignorant,” Jesus was saying, “I’ve been telling you, for 3 1/2 years, that I came to minister to people, not to be ministered unto. I came to be humiliated & humbled! Someday you’ll understand.” After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter did understand. He had observed the total humiliation & humbling of Jesus on the cross.  But, not now! As Jesus washed his feet, the complete picture, of what Jesus came to do, was not evident yet to Peter. He still thinks Jesus is about to launch His Kingdom! This is the King— “What are you doing down there washing my feet, King Jesus?” “Peter, you’re just not tracking with me,” Jesus was saying, “I must humble myself! That’s why I came! And, if you won’t let me humble myself, in your place, you can have no part of Me! If I don’t experience the ultimate humiliation of death, on the cross! If I don’t take your sin & the sin of the world! If I don’t make atonement for your sin, you can have no part of Me! You’ll never spend eternity with Me!”

-I’ve Given You An Example!

He finishes washing their feet & says, “You call Me Teacher & Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord & Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” John 13:13-15. The “example” He gave was NOT the practice of foot washing! The example He gave us was HUMILITY!  His ministry, as a SERVANT, didn’t appeal to the religious leaders! Serving others made Him weak, in their estimation. He couldn’t possibly be the Messiah! Judas Iscariot came to the same conclusion! So, he determined to cut his losses & make a little profit from his wasted 3 1/2 years with Jesus! How sad they missed the Servant King!

 

Serve One Another!

-Jesus, The Example!

For I have given you an example,” Jesus told His disciples, after washing their feet, “that you should do as I have done to you.  Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master…” John 13:15-17.  The example, He set before them, was NOT the washing of their feet! In some circles, where the washing of feet is practiced, individuals can actually take “pride” in the “humility” they display as they wash each other’s feet. No, the example Jesus sets is true humility in the serving of others! It is humble deference to others; and, serving them in every life situation!

-Jesus, The Master!

I am your Master,” Jesus says, “And I’ve given you an example to serve in the SAME WAY you’re seen me serve!” That’s the identity that Jesus gives us! That’s who we are! We are servants, just like Jesus, our Master! We’re called Christians; and, that literally means “little Christs.” Acts 11 says the believers were first called “little Christs” at Antioch. They so resembled the humble, servant Christ that the unbelievers said they acted just like Him! Like a “little Christ.” We will never serve like Jesus served until we grab hold of that! To use Jesus’ words, our purpose & calling is to “…do as I have done to you…” He calls us to be a servant to all! Just like Jesus!

-Jesus, The Lover!

But, we will never serve like Jesus served until we love like Jesus loved! In the first verse, of John 13, it says, of Jesus, “…having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” The key to understanding that verse; and, the kind of love Jesus had, is found in that phrase, “…He loved them to the end.” It means “to the uttermost” or with “total fullness.” He loved them “utterly”, with “total fullness”; even though He knew that His hour, to endure the cross, was near! Though He knew of His approaching death to pay for the sin of the world! All the way to the cross He is pre-occupied with His love for them! His kind of love drove Him to serve! To minister! And, we’ll not serve like Jesus until we learn to love like He loved! It’s quite simple really! We don’t serve because our pre-occupation is with other things! We’re pre-occupied with the building of our own little kingdoms; rather, than His kingdom! We don’t serve because it’s not on our agenda!

-Will They Know You’re His Disciple?

We’re not in love with the same things Jesus was in love with! Later, in the same chapter, John records these words of Jesus: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” John 13:35. The world will know that we are Christians (“little Christs”) by our love; and, our love will be evidenced by a life of service to others! Loveless people are too pre-occupied with their own “self importance” to do common ministry… like washing someone’s feet! Not Jesus! He is fully aware of His identity! He is the “King of kings and Lord of lords.” He is God incarnate! And, He’s washing the feet of disciples who were too proud to serve each other! That is true love’s character! And, the nearer we are, to Jesus, the closer we’ll get to other people! And, we’ll serve them like Jesus did!

 

What Jesus Calls Great!

-Wouldn’t You Like To Know?

Have you ever given thought to what it would have been like to be one of Jesus’ disciples & just walk through life with Him? To literally walk through life with Jesus! Because that was the most common method of transportation in that day! And, to hear Him speak God’s wisdom into every situation they encountered! Mark, who wrote the Gospel of Mark, tells us about a time when Jesus & His disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem; and, Jesus gets real serious with them & begins to tell them that the Chief Priest & the religious leaders would condemn Him to death! That He would be mocked & spit on & flogged & killed! And, it was weird— like they didn’t even hear what He was saying— but, 2 of the disciples, James & John who were brothers, approach Jesus immediately after He dropped that “bomb” on them & ask if they could sit on each side of His throne in Glory!

-Great To Jesus Is Service!

That really ticked off the other 10 disciples! Mark records it like this:  “Jesus called them over and said to them, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them.  But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.  In so many words, Jesus was teaching them that if you’re GREAT in God’s Kingdom, that this world probably won’t even notice you!

-Jesus’ Leadership Model!

What Jesus calls “GREAT” and what the world says is “GREAT” are generally 2 entirely different things. Jesus calls you great when you reject the world’s leadership style (v.42). Those who lead, in this world, dominate or lord it over anyone in a “subordinate” role, Jesus says. Having a “position” of power is of great significance! But, that’s not the case in Jesus’ Kingdom! If we follow Jesus’ leadership model, we have to reject the world’s style of leadership. Instead, Jesus calls you great when your ministry is measured by the people you serve (v.43).  “…it must not be like the world’s leadership style…” among believers, He says!

-Do You Want A Title?

In the ministry of the church, Jesus says it’s not about having a “title.” Do you want a title? If you’re an “ELDER” you SERVE! If you’re a “DEACON” you SERVE! If you’re a Sunday School Teacher, a Small Group Leader, an AWANA or NURSERY WORKER you SERVE! If you’re a WORSHIP TEAM MEMBER— it’s NOT A SHOW! Jesus doesn’t care about your title! He cares about your SERVICE! You want to be GREAT? You want a TITLE? Take the title of “SERVANT”, Jesus says! And, then, Jesus calls you great when you humble yourself & become the world’s slave (v.44).  Some versions render the word “servant.” But, that’s not right! The word is “doulos” in the original Greek language; and, the only correct way to translate it is  “slave.” Jesus meant for us to take on the humility of a slave when it comes to our ministry & service to others!

 

Give Up Your Life!

-Great In God’s Kingdom!

In my last post we talked about the kind of life that Jesus called great! We picked up on His conversation, with the disciples, after two of them— James & John— asked if they could sit in the seat of power, next to Jesus, in His Kingdom.  “Jesus called them over and said to them, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them.  But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.  In so many words, Jesus was teaching them that if you’re great in God’s Kingdom, that this world probably won’t even notice you!

-Slave Or Servant?

Jesus calls you great when you reject the world’s leadership style (v.42). He also calls you great when your ministry is measured by the people you serve (v.43).  But, there are 2 more points I’d like to draw out, from this text, related to what Jesus calls great.  He also calls you great when you humble yourself & become the world’s slave (v.44).  We touched briefly, on this point, in our last post.  The word is “doulos” in the original Greek language; and, it can only be translated accurately as “slave” in the English. So, while the Holman version actually translates it “slave”, many translations choose to use the word “servant.” And, while they can be credited with sensitivity for choosing to translate the word as “servant” because the history of slavery, in America, is so repulsive & offensive, we probably ought not change the word Jesus used.

-The Humility Of A Slave!

He meant for us to take on the humility, of a “slave,” when it comes to our ministry & service. In this way, we actually serve like Jesus did:  “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,” the Apostle Paul wrote, “who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave” Philippians 2:5-11.  In other words, Jesus didn’t use His title— GOD— as a BIG STICK! In His incarnation, He took the form of a SLAVE!

-Suffering For Others!

Finally, from Jesus’ words here, we discern that He calls you great when you give up your life to suffer for others (v.45). Even Jesus suffered for others, willingly, all the way to the cross! He served ‘til it hurt! ‘Til it killed Him! And, you image Jesus when you live your life similarly! That’s probably not going to get you a fancy TITLE; or, the corner office in the big corporation! But, it will get you a “Well done, good & faithful servant” from Jesus! You may have noticed that the focus, in this post, was not on spiritual gifts, the reason being, that, the greater emphasis, in Scripture, is on the heart attitude toward ministry rather than giftedness or knowledge! Jesus emphasis humility over giftedness; and, the power is never said to be in our GIFTS; but, in the Holy Spirit! So, how will you respond to needs around you? I hope like Jesus did!

 

Is God Pruning You?

-Pruning Produces More Fruit!

My parents used to grow grapes; and, there were times when they had to cut away the dead branches that produced no grapes! But, they also cut back “living” branches; so, the vine would use it’s resources to produce more “fruit”—GRAPES! In the timeline, of John 15, Jesus is preparing His disciples for life after His death, resurrection & ascension. He begins with these words: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (vs. 1-2).

-Things To Come!

As you move, through the rest of the chapter, Jesus tells them that 2 things will come after his departure. First, He says there will be defections from inside the faith; or, inside the church body! People, who claimed to be followers of Jesus, will walk away from “the Faith.” They’ll quit! It’s not for them! And, second, Jesus tells them there will be persecution from the outside! Bogus faith inside the church & suffering from the outside! And, He uses the metaphor of a vine, a branch; and, the fruit produced, to illustrate the difference between a true disciple of Jesus and a fraud! Jesus is the Vine! The Father is the Vinedresser! And, there are 2 different kinds of branches here—ONE that bears NO FRUIT! And, the Father REMOVES it! And, the other—that produces FRUIT! And, the Father prunes it so that it produces more fruit!

-Responding To God’s Pruning!

So, here’s the bottom line—It is our RESPONSE to God’s pruning that proves what kind of branch we are! Are you a dead branch that produces no fruit? Or, a living, healthy branch that responds to the painful process, of pruning, by producing more fruit? Let’s talk about some of the points that Jesus makes, about fruitfulness, through His use of the metaphor of the Vine & the branches! First, He clearly indicates that fruitfulness is expected from every genuine disciple of Jesus. In the first 3 verses, of John 15, He says that if you don’t bear fruit, it’s because you’re “not abiding” in the Vine! In other words, you’re NOT “IN CHRIST.” So, what kind of fruit should we expect to see growing in the life of a follower of Jesus? While several passages answer that question; perhaps, none better than Galatians 5.

-The Fruit Of The Spirit!

The Apostle Paul, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, wrote the Church of Galatia to tell them that the indwelling Spirit will produce fruit in their life that looks like this: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (vs. 22-24). That’s some of the low hanging fruit that’s produced by those who belong to Jesus! The Spirit produces it! If you’re a believer, Jesus invested His life in you! And, He expects a “return”— or, FRUIT— from His investment! We’ll come back to this next week!

The Fruit God Produces In You!

-The Evidence Is The Fruit!

Everyone that is “in Christ” will evidence the fruit of that relationship. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches! So, if you don’t bear fruit it’s because you’re “not abiding in the vine,” He said. So, let’s take some time to consider what kind of fruit is expected to be growing, in our life, if we belong to Him. Besides Galatians 5, which speaks to fruit the indwelling Holy Spirit produces in us, there is also an expectation that our lives would produce the fruit of winning others to Jesus.

-The Fruit Of Disciple-Making!

In John 4, Jesus said: “Do not say, ‘There are yet four months and then comes the harvest. I tell you lift up your eyes and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages and gathers fruit for eternal life so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.” Does your life reveal the fruit of disciple making? Jesus also said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” John 14:15.  So, we would expect to see the fruit of obedience in the life of someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

-The Fruit Of Obedience!

If our faith is genuine, the indwelling Holy Spirit will be at work in us—pointing out all the areas of our lives we still need to line up, in obedience, to the Word of God. In John 15, Jesus refers to The Father as the Vinedresser (v.1); and, He added that God will remove you, from the vine, if there’s no life in you. In v.6 He says you’ll be thrown into the FIRE! Jesus taught the same truth in His parable about the wheat & the tares in Matthew 13. The “tares” LOOKED like wheat; but, they were frauds! They were weeds & at the harvest they’ll be separated from the genuine wheat and burned up. That pictures judgment for everyone who claims to be Jesus’ disciple; but, have no fruit to evidence that claim! Just as the owner, of a vineyard, expects fruit; so, God expects every one of us— who genuinely abide in Christ— to produce fruit! He saved us on account of His great Name & for His great purpose— that He might gather a people, to Himself for all eternity, that belong to Him! Jesus Christ “invested” His life in you; and, He expects a “return” on that investment! Consider what Jesus said!

-Jesus Chose Us!

You did not choose me,” Jesus said, “but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” John 15:16.  It’s fruitfulness, He says, that evidences real faith! If your life is absent, of fruit, you’d do well to examine yourself against the Scriptures to see if you’re faith is the real thing! Please consider Jesus’ words carefully, with all sobriety! This is “life or death” because fruitfulness is always the result of “abiding in Christ.” If there is NO FRUIT of the Spirit; if there is NO FRUIT or passion to “MAKE DISCIPLES”; If there is NO FRUIT of obedience—it may be because you do not abide in Jesus! Nor does He abide in you! The church, here in the west, has made a distinction between a “believer” & a “disciple.” A distinction that’s not endorsed by Scripture! We’ll get into that in next week’s post!