Sunday, April 23, 2017

#Jesus Calls Us To Active Service! #JesusFollowers


It is in active service to God's fellow creations that we truly demonstrate that we are God's children and that we truly love the one Who created us.

Jesus - the one God chose to be our perfect example - calls on us to do all that is within our power to perform Good Works, relying on our Original, Natural, God-given gifts, while seeking greater strength and wisdom from God, Who gives to us abundantly when we need spiritual renewal.

The life that Jesus calls on us to pursue is a life of works, action, radical love and service to others.

Jesus wants us to make God's Kingdom in Heaven a reality here on earth, right now and in this time. 

We are not called upon to wait for others to do it, nor wait for God to make it happen on our behalf.

Good Works are the way in which we grow God's Kingdom. Every one of our actions in our daily lives should show to others how God wishes humanity to relate to one another and to our Creator.

"Trust in Yahweh and do good," writes the Pslamist (37:3) Let us do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly, honoring our God, urges Micah (6:8.)

What God calls us to do, through the teachings and example of the one He chose to show us, Jesus, is not impossible for us.

God has made us capable of governing ourselves, and we have the knowledge of what is good, just and pure, and what should be avoided, thanks to the wisdom of the Prophets and the teachings of our Master, Jesus, who shows us by his example that all of us are able to obey God.

We can love and serve others perfectly because Jesus set the pattern for us to follow and called us to do all that he did.

But we cannot deceive ourselves. We cannot be all God wishes us to be simply by proclaiming ourselves "righteous," or merely because we believe in God and in the one He chose for us.

Only those who actively DO what is righteous has a claim to call themselves Righteous, and even so, we are not to brag of our righteousness. But we are still called to act out our good acts in front of others, to be a light to them, so that they may join us in doing good.

And when we fall short of the high standards God sets for us - and like children, we cannot run before we walk - God promises that He forgives us when we repent and renew our determination to seek out Godliness and continue to walk the path of Righteousness.

Only those who obey his teachings are building firm foundations upon the Rock of those teachings.

We honor Jesus with our actions, if we do as he asks of us. Then we are truly children and servants of God, and not just admirers and flatterers of God's teacher.

So, if we love Jesus, we'll seek to follow all that he did and said during his ministry. His teachings live on forever, and never pass away. Knowing this, let us go into the world as true and faithful servants of our Creator by following the words of His spokesman, our Master, Jesus.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

#Jesus’ Example of Perfect Obedience #JesusFollowers


Happy Easter! Today is the day on which we celebrate the return of Jesus to God after a mission of perfect obedience. We thank God for Jesus' example and teachings, which lead us to salvation!

Jesus was a preacher of repentance and righteousness. 

He made known the love God has for us, proclaimed the riches of divine grace, and declared the mercy of God to a guilty world; but at the same time he insisted that without repentance there can be no salvation. (Luke 13:3-5). God sent him out to bless humanity by turning them from their iniquities.

He declared that a leading object of his mission was to call sinners to repentance (Mark 2:17.) To deny the efficacy of repentance would be to render the mission of Jesus useless.

In his Sermon on the Mount, he reflects the character of a practical preacher.

He taught that to do the will of God, and seek to be like Him, is the only way to gain admittance into his kingdom, that the condition of forgiveness is our forgiving others, and that the man who hears his sayings and does them builds on a good foundation. (See Matt. 5, 6 & 7)

He taught that men will be accepted or rejected according to the use they make of the talents entrusted to their care; that when brought to judgment, they will be received to glory, or doomed to punishment, according to their works (Chapter 25).

Throughout his ministry he taught men to expect salvation, and every blessing, on the ground of the love, mercy and favor of God, solely on the terms of repentance and obedience to the Gospel.

He represented God as accepting penitent sinners, on the ground of his free mercy, just as a compassionate father would his offending child when he saw him turn from his folly. (Luke 15:11-32)

The Gospel is undoubtedly a system of divine mercy and grace, but in this system, conditions are certainly understood. The conditions are repentance, faith, and obedience. Without a compliance with these conditions, sinners cannot be saved.

We have redemption in Jesus as we have it in his Gospel: he came and revealed it, he lost his life in making it known, he is appointed by the Father to dispense it, and we enjoy it so long as we conform to his teaching and example.

So, from now on, we should not live just for ourselves, only gratifying our passions and desires, but for him, in obedience to his Gospel, and in the imitation of his example – especially of that generous love which he manifested in laying down his life for the good of men. (John 15:13)

Throughout his life, he resigned himself to do the will of his Father. (Luke 22:42) Had his feelings of pain and sorrow been less exquisite, his piety, his virtue, his patience had been less perfect, had he not felt so deeply, he would have been less suited to be our example in bearing suffering.

Jesus showed no cowardice in his suffering. Throughout, with firmness, he resigned himself to the will of his Father. (Luke 22:42) Had his feelings of pain and sorrow been less exquisite, his piety, his virtue, his patience had been less perfect, had he not felt so deeply, he would have been less suited to be our example in bearing suffering.

Jesus can be an example to us only so far as he was like us in nature, state and circumstances, or as we are capable of becoming like him. Had he never suffered he could not have been an example to us in suffering. Had he not died, he could not have been an example to us in dying.

Had he not perfectly obeyed he could not have been an example of perfect obedience. But now by his death, his character is perfected, his qualifications are completed, his testimony is finished, his obedience is tried and, found perfect, he received a glorious reward, and we have a suitable and perfect example of every excellence attainable by us.

(Adapted from the writings of Rev. Noah Worcester, 1805)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

What Does God Think We Can Do? #JesusFollowers


Just a few verses into the Hebrew Bible, in the book of Genesis, there is a well-known story that has valuable lessons that, if better known, could change the way we understand God, our human abilities, and our responsibilities as God’s children.

The story of Cain and Abel – well known as an allegorical tale of brotherly strife – begins with both brothers offering up a sacrifice to God. Abel offers up animals on an altar, while Cain offers fruits and vegetables. However…
"[Yahweh] didn’t respect Cain and his offering. So Cain was very angry, and the expression on his face fell. And Yahweh said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires you, but you must rule over it." (Gen. 4:5b-8)
The story goes on to tell how the angry, confused Cain sought out and murdered his brother Abel. God then finds Cain in hiding, and asks him where his brother was. Cain answered with that well-known line (as if he was innocent of the crime) "Am I my brother's keeper?" God then punishes Cain by marking him for all eternity.

So, what lessons does this story teach us, today, about human beings, and our abilities?

First, God laid out two paths of action to Cain, equally offering acceptance (to be “Lifted” in the Hebrew, meaning exalted) if he had chosen to do what was right.

God also told Cain he had the ability to RULE OVER or “master” sin, if he chose to do it.

God’s offer of acceptance to Cain, and the choice he was given, prove that he had the ability to do what is right – and so do we.

But this simple lesson has been invisible to many religious teachers, who have long denied that we as human beings have the ability to choose to do what is right.

Some – living hundreds of years after Jesus' ministry – taught that Cain’s father, Adam (the first human being, along with Eve, in the book of Genesis) sinned against God. This, they say, caused all of his descendants, including us, to be UNABLE TO AVOID SINNING.

They also taught that this inability was passed on to us through our ancestors when they had sex. This is the teaching of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and all modern Protestant and Catholic churches.

If this is true, then we are powerless to avoid sin – and powerless to do what God commands us to do.

But the actual words of this story blow apart these man-made theories.

Cain, the very child of Adam in this story, had the ability to NOT kill Abel, had he chosen that option. He was assured by God that he could CHOOSE to not sin, and in fact, said he MUST do so, to avoid punishment.

This story teaches us volumes about God’s nature, as well as human nature. God created us to obey His moral commandments. And because God is our Creator, He knows of what we are capable, and calls us to seek out His holiness and obey Him.

Rather than telling his disciples that we could do nothing EXCEPT sin, Jesus – the one whom God chose as our example and teacher and anointed as His spokesman – taught them, and through them, us, that we are to be "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48)

And the one who said he did all things that pleased God also said that we must follow him, doing all that he had done. (John 13:15; 14:12)

In saying this, Jesus echoed all the Hebrew prophets who had come before him - because he did not teach anything new about our ability to obey God that was not already known.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, we are assured that God's commandments are, "not too hard for you," and "The word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, SO THAT YOU CAN DO IT." (Deut. 30:11, 14) Isaiah writes, "Wash yourselves, make yourself clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do well." (1:16)

The Psalmist writes: "Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges the earth." (Psalms 58:11)

“He has shown you, O man, what is good," writes Micah (6:8)

We are called upon to "Hate evil, and love good" says Amos (5:15)

"Choose this day whom you will serve," says Joshua (24:15)

"If you choose, you can keep the commandments; and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. Set before you are fire and water; to whatever you choose, stretch out your hand. Before everyone are life and death, whichever they choose will be given them." (Sirach 15:15-17)

Therefore, while sin may be waiting by the door for us, seeking to master us, we may indeed defeat – and master – sinful temptations. We HAVE THAT ABILITY, given to us by our Creator!

If we have damaged this ability because of our past behavior, God will grant us greater moral strength when we ask (Psalm 138:3; Prov. 2:6; James 1:5)

That we have this ability born within us is amazingly good news, because it shows that our Creator knows us, and still gives us the freedom to act and choose to obey Him freely!

Through the teachings of our Master, Jesus, we know that God is like a parent, Who allows His children to make mistakes, repent, and turn back to doing what is right and good.

We should thank God, our Creator, in Whose image we were created, for trusting us to make our own choices, and let's pledge to always take that awesome responsibility seriously in all that we do.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

God Forgives Us #JesusFollowers


God's infinite forgiveness is revealed in the life and teachings of Jesus, whom we are called to emulate.

God's love is truly infinite. It has always existed.

God’s prophet Isaiah, says: "Let the wicked man abandon his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to YAHWEH, so he may have mercy on him, to our God, for He will freely forgive." (55:7)

God, is said to be, “merciful and gracious, long-suffering – forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin." (Exodus 34:6-7)

King David constantly prayed for the pardon of sin, for God's "mercy's sake," (Psalms 44:26) and found forgiveness for his sins when he repented, living thereafter with "clean hands" before God (2 Samuel 22:21.)

In the story of Jonah, that God is portrayed as being forgiving and merciful to Nineveh when they repented from their sins (Jonah 4:1.)

The forgiveness of God is powerful and strong because the challenge God gives us through his chosen son, Jesus is also powerful and strong.

We are called by Jesus to perform acts of Righteousness, to treat others like we would wish to be treated, to "go the extra mile" and not return evil for evil.

We must seek always to love God completely and obey God's commandments, we must not be hypocrites in doing so, we must not pray just to be seen by others, and should not seek after earthly riches, but instead seek after Heavenly riches.

That is the Good News Jesus preached. Nothing more, nothing less. It is at the core of his teachings.

"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:5-12)

When the Scribes told Jesus that only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7) Jesus corrected them, and by example, taught that all of us should forgive others’ sins and trespasses.

In the parable of the Unforgiving Servant, the King (God) calls out the wicked servant, saying, “I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Matt. 18:32-33.)

Jesus calls us to be merciful to others, just as God is merciful (Luke 6:36)

When Peter asks how many times we must forgive others, Jesus replies, “Seventy times seven” times (Matt. 18-21-22.) In other words, continually and without end.

These are commands and duties we are called to perform in our lives. When we falter, and fail to live up to these Godly deals, we seek forgiveness from God, and always obtain it.

When others around us stumble and hurt us, and fail to live up to God's high standards, we must forgive them, as a condition of our being forgiven by God when WE fall short of the duties we've taken on by agreeing to follow his anointed one, Jesus. (Mark 11:25, Matt. 6:14-15)

By demonstrating, by his own example, the forgiveness God requires, and by exhibiting in his own conduct the spirit of benevolence, meekness, and self-denial, Jesus calls on us to learn from him, to take up the cross and follow his steps.

If Jesus can, in his dying breath, forgive those who murdered him (Luke 23:34) we can forgive those who offend us with their gossip. 

Our God, revealed to us by Jesus, is a God of high expectations, and believes that we are able to meet and exceed them (John 14:12.) Let us forgive others in the same spirit of forgiveness offered to us by our Eternal Father.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Seeking To Walk As #Jesus Walked #JesusFollowers


Does God wish us to live lives of disobedience and lawlessness, proclaiming His Name, Yahweh, with our lips, but our hearts remaining far from Him?

Will God reward with eternal life those who disobey and ignore His moral statutes and the one He sent to proclaim and live them as our example, Jesus?

If the Hebrew Scriptures and teachings of Jesus are right, it's easy to believe that God wishes us to not only pledge, but actually DO the Good Works Jesus said God wants us to perform every minute of every day upon this earth.

Jesus tells us that God doesn't want our empty words - vain cries of God's name, or the name of his chosen one, Jesus.

Jesus said, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." (Mark 7:6; Isaiah 29:13.)

God does NOT want a human or animal sacrifice that "stands in for" and excuses our past and future failings.

God seeks only a humble spirit and a repentant heart (Psalm 51:17.)

He wants our joyful, enthusiastic love and this same love given to others. This love leads DIRECTLY to God's Kingdom here and now upon the earth, and to our eternal salvation.

Jesus teaches it is the person who DOES the will of the Father who is worthy of the Kingdom to which we are called to build, and to eternal life (Matt.  7:21-23).

And Jesus told us that only the one who does righteousness is righteous. Without the act of DOING, we are not entitled to call ourselves "righteous."

Simply professing with our lips the belief that Jesus actually lived and died, then went back to God, is a cold and sterile faith - a faith of bare facts and mere words, perhaps genuinely felt ones, and perhaps ones spoken with great emotion - but empty words, nonetheless.

Mere words, without accompanying them with active Good Works, is not enough (James 2:19.) Striving to obey God’s chosen spokesman, Jesus (John 8:51; 14:23) and wisely remaining true to his teachings and following them (Matthew 7:24; John 8:31) is what is required of us.

As John rightly says, if we say we love Jesus, but do not actively serve others, we are liars and our faith is a lie. (1 John 2:6.) Jesus clearly says that "anyone who loves me will obey my teachings." (John 14:23.)

Honest Jesus Followers, therefore, will seek to walk just as he walked.

We will seek other's needs above our own.

We will seek heavenly treasure above earthly treasure.

We will actively seek to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, house the homeless, and care for widows, orphans and others needing our love.

We will pray for our enemies, and return love for their hatred.

We will actively do Good Works as an example to others, but humbly, not just to receive praise from them.

In short, we will joyfully take his yoke of obedience upon us daily.

This is the path of the Narrow Gate, and not the wide path of belief divorced from action (Matt. 7:13-14.)

If we truly believe Jesus' actions and teachings represent the perfect way God wishes US to live, how can we do anything other than to model every day of our lives around his?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Should We Avoid "Negative" People? #JesusFollowers


Should we avoid those who are not as positive or as moral as we are? What about those whose lives are "a mess?" Shouldn't we just avoid them?

There are many today who advocate doing just that. They argue that being around people who they believe are "negative" just brings US down. They're "downers" or even "toxic." And, they say, these kinds of people can bring US down, too, making us think negative thoughts.

And in a sense, this can be true. We've all had friends, colleagues and co-workers who are always "down," never happy, always complaining. Their negativity can seem to rub off on others, sometimes.

Perhaps, argue motivational speakers, personal coaches and other gurus, we should just associate with perpetually happy people - those who are always smiling, always positive, never acknowledging failures, sadness or defeat.

But if someone claims to follow Jesus, and claims him as their Master, then they ought to hear him out on this subject, too.

And, as usual, Jesus has a slightly different view than others do.

Jesus says, clearly: Reach out to, and hang out with, those who need your influence the most.

Of course how you take that answer depends on what you think Jesus' teachings represent, and who you think Jesus is. And whether Jesus' words carry any weight on this question with you.

If Jesus' words are ALL IMPORTANT, and if he is God's chosen, human example that WE are called to follow in all things (and one that we CAN follow) then his teachings are more important than anyone else's opinions.

Even at the start of his ministry, he started speaking clearly to answer our question:

"The Spirit of Yahweh is upon me, because He has chosen me to preach good news to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are being bruised." (Luke 4:8)

When asked why he was hanging out with sinners, prostitutes and even (gulp!) tax collectors, he didn't say "avoid them at all costs," but instead answered, "Those who are healthy don't need a physician, but those who are sick do." (Mark 2:17) If true, we need to actively seek out those who need help, not shun them.

Those whose spirits are sick are in need of us. Jesus calls us to cure those in need. We don't need to be doctors or mental health professionals to help others. We can cure the Spirits of the helpless, the hopeless, the homeless, and the heartbroken with our kind words and our gentle touch.

Jesus tells us that those who don't have their acts together most need the presence and influence of those who do. Those who exist in a dark world of quiet desperation need our light (Matt. 5:16)

In truth, those who are perpetually "down" need our companionship, love, and support most of all.

To encourage others and tell them that they are God's children is to BE the message they need to hear. To seek always to follow Jesus' example IS the light of Jesus they need to see.

And let's not assume that those who are always smiling aren't hurting, too, and that their smiles aren't hiding pain. Many people wear a mask, and that mask is shown in "negative" actions and words, or it may be a false facade.

Those "loners" some may speak of so contemptuously about are, by definition, lonely. They need our friendship and encouraging words.

And what about the immoral ones around us? While we definitely don't want to fall into their ditch, we are called to help them OUT of their ditches.

"Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a ditch?" (Luke 6:39) Those who see the light of Jesus aren't blinded by it. NO ONE ever was. We must not be morally blind.

And for all those who say WE cannot do what Jesus did, read the next line: "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher." (Luke 6:39-40) Let us live in, and be trained by, Jesus' words.

As another put it, those who claim to "live in Jesus" must seek always to walk as he did. (1 John 2:6)

Jesus never tells us to treat him as a fragile idol to be worshiped from afar, and never says we can never be like him. Instead, Jesus clearly says he is the example God chose for us to show that we CAN walk in a more Godly way each day! (Matt. 14:12; John 13:15)

Our message and example to others, when it's expressed in this way, can change lives and bring light and spiritual healing to those who are hurting!

So, let's get to know our brothers and sisters so well, and let them know us, that it leads them into the light, and onto the path of Righteousness in which Jesus calls us all to walk.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Gospel Is Not A "Mystery" And Never Has Been #JesusFollowers


Our Master, Jesus, left us a legacy of hope with his words, his life, his teachings and his death. All remain an example to us of a life lived perfectly for God. In this, Jesus was clear that he was not hiding anything from his disciples. Nor is anything hidden from us, today.

Jesus said: "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for EVERYTHING that I learned from my Father I have MADE KNOWN to you." (Matt. 15:15)

And Jesus said: "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven HAS BEEN GIVEN TO YOU." (Matt. 13:11) "Because whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open." (Mark 4:22)

This was not true for some religions of the ancient Roman world in which Jesus lived. For some, faith was built around a "mystery." Priests of these "mystery religions" were charged with revealing the secrets of the gods to those who had been initiated. Only then were these "mysteries" unfolded to the one who had committed to worship the deities that were the focus of those faiths.

But Jesus and HIS Gospel were different.

Jesus revealed ALL THINGS to the world during his lifetime, and did so openly, and to all.

There was nothing the remained hidden, nothing left out. There were no "mysteries" left to unfold or reveal after the ministry of Jesus ended.

Just as he spoke to his disciples, Jesus speaks to us today - through the simple, clear teachings in the Gospels. We follow Jesus and obey God with our eyes wide open, with our full understanding, as well as our hearts and minds.

Jesus calls us to repent of our sins, to seek to live righteously and in a Godly way, to forgive others, to love and pray for our enemies, to do Good Works (in humility) and to love God and serve others in God's name. He says we will be rewarded according to our deeds alone, judged by God alone: we are not to judge ourselves or each other. That, and nothing more, is the Gospel.

The Gospel Jesus gave us wasn't lacking in anything when his ministry finished with his death on the cross. We need no further explanations, no further revelations, and no interpretations, in order to determine what we must do to please God.

The clarity of Jesus' message is obvious to all who read it. The life, teachings and example of Jesus are a clear window onto the Will of God.

Jesus challenges us to do all that God asks of us, and has given us an example we can follow.

He points us to God, calling us to repent of our sinful acts, seek forgiveness, and live the way God wants us to live.

God continues to grant us all the strength, love and support we need to continue growing into Spiritual Completeness and maturity.

We are told by Jesus to "do as I have done" and to "follow my example." We are not to hide our good works under a bushel basket, but to Do Good, and do so in humility, not simply to be seen by others.

Accepting this knowledge of God's path which Jesus reveals to us, we are challenged to actively live out this Faith as friends and followers of Jesus.

Let us do so with faith, humility and joyful obedience to God, who sent us Jesus to reveal His will to us!