Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Teachings of Jesus Call us to ACTION! #JesusFollowers


Only those who gain knowledge of the teachings of Jesus and follow him in humility can truly become whole, perfect and complete in Godliness.
Jesus was the perfect example through which we can know and see how God wishes us to act, live, to relate to others and to die.
It is in this context that we can begin to understand the otherwise "difficult" saying of Jesus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6.) The rarely-quoted next verse reads: "If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him."
Seeing and learning without acting upon what we've seen and learned is pointless, and useless, leading to dead faith (James 2:20; 26.) We cannot hide our Light, or keep our Good Works to our selves, but instead, Jesus calls us to spread goodness and light to others (Matt. 5:16.) It is only by action that we spread God's Kingdom upon the face of the earth.
Jesus challenges us to be better than we are, not remain exactly as we were before we met him. The act of following him is meant to transform us; we are to be BORN AGAIN in service and obedience to God, with the example of God's chosen exemplar always before our eyes (John 3:3.)
Jesus didn't ever claim to be God. But he did claim to be Godly, and he was in fact perfectly in tune with God's will. He says of his Father, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:29.)
From his example, we need not look through a "dark glass" seeking vainly for what God wills for our lives. Jesus lays it out clearly, and says we CAN achieve it, and must attempt to do so. And we need not do it alone. God's servant Jesus teaches that we can rely on God's forgiveness when we falter on this journey, and must as a consequence forgive others who may offend us - in Godly imitation of both God and God's servant, Jesus (Matt. 6:14-15.)
The Good and Beneficial Message proclaimed by Jesus wasn't to simply have mere belief in his existence, but was a call to ACTIVELY serve God, to follow Jesus, and to love others just as we love ourselves (Mark 12:29-31.) His Gospel calls us to serve and act, not sit and contemplate, nor to simply admire Jesus nor even to worship him.
To be Good and Beneficial, the message of Jesus must spread goodness to others, and be beneficial to others. To turn a deaf ear to God's instruction through Jesus is detestable to God (John 9:31; Prov. 28:9.)
When we realize the wonderful gifts God has given all people from birth - but we have not used to benefit others until we knew Jesus - we should feel a great sorrow of realization, followed immediately by great joy that we now know the goal for which we were born, and the Good Works for which God has equipped us!
Jesus is a "Door" and a "Gate" by which we may walk through and glimpse the potential life for which God has equipped us - and has promised to continue to equip us. Let us have the courage to walk through this narrow passageway and enter into spiritually complete and morally useful lives together!

Sunday, October 6, 2019

What Do We Owe God, And Others? #JesusFollowers


What do we owe to God? What do we owe to others? Many today might answer that we owe God and others nothing. Instead, they might say, we owe it to ourselves to focus on building up our self alone.

This message is reinforced in almost every aspect of the society we live in. Advertising tells us that we owe it to ourselves to Grant our every desire, without hesitation.

We are told that we deserve every luxury and every Indulgence we can think of. It's very very easy to fall into this trap, to believe that by gratifying ourselves that we will somehow be happy.

Even some preachers teach that we owe it to ourselves to be rich - and that God endorses our quest for riches. They even say that our main religious goal in life is a Self-centered goal to "get saved," and save our souls for the next life. Once that's accomplished (and it's done quickly and easily, they claim - with just one prayer!) we may continue to focus on getting rich, and they tell us that we have no other obligations.

And many church leaders rarely speak of OUR duties, but speak of, and sing about, holding GOD to HIS promises.

But as we have seen again and again, people who have lived in luxury beyond our wildest dreams have the same feelings of unhappiness, of being unfulfilled, of feeling alone and unloved.

It's almost a stereotype and a truism that money and fame does not really bring happiness. And yet some still believe it, and Chase the dream.

If we follow Jesus, however, then the question of what we owe God and what we owe others is a simple one to answer. We owe everything to God and we owe complete and total service to others in the name of Jesus, whom we serve.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he said that we are to love our God with all our hearts all our minds all our strength and all our understanding, and our neighbor as ourselves. (Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:37)

Some say this is just a simplistic and easy summary of all the laws of God. And while it is a summary, for sure, it is not simplistic, but an incredible, powerful challenge that Jesus calls us to take up daily.

Because if we owe everything to God, our creator, we will live our lives full of gratitude to him for this creation and for our lives in it. If we owe everything to others, we will serve them and love them and cherish them. We will do everything to comfort them to ensure they have what they need to survive and thrive in this world.

When we understand that our lives here are meant to build up an Earthly kingdom of God, one that reflects the spiritual Perfection of our creator, we will do all we can to alleviate suffering, comfort those in pain, and fill the needs of those who lack basic necessities. (Matt. 6:10)

This leaves little room for simply piling up riches. In fact, Jesus repeatedly calls on us to reject riches for riches' sake, saying (perhaps most famously) that it's easier for a rich man to go through the eye of needle than to enter into the Kingdom. (Mark 10:25) 

Perhaps not as famous, but just as important, is his warning that we ought to, "be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in an abundance of possessions." (Luke 12:15)

This is the selfless vision and the mission Jesus came to preach. Jesus calls us to individually reach out to those among us and serve them.

We as Jesus followers are called to deny ourselves, not focus on gratifying ourselves - to put others first, even ahead of our own enrichment. Jesus calls us to pick up the cross of service, the cross of love, the cross of self-sacrifice and love of our neighbor.

Jesus actually warns AGAINST seeking to save oneself. To do so means we will actually lose ourselves. (Matt. 10:38-39) Jesus seemed to know that we lose our souls when we focus inward, not outward.

And he specifically says that simple praise, crying out or reflexively using repetitive phrases will not impress God, and will not save us, either. Only by doing what he commands us to do leads directly to Godliness, and pleases God. (Matt. 6:7; 7:21-23; Luke 6:46)

We should seek to live in a way that lets God's spirit flow through us in the same way in which it flowed through Jesus, our Master. 

When we do this, we are obeying our Master, whom God sent to us as an example and our teacher. We are then telling  God that we are living lives of gratitude and service, just as his chosen son, Jesus, called us to do.

As his followers, we ought to do no less.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

#Jesus Taught A Reasonable Faith #JesusFollowers



Faith is a reasonable principle. There is nothing dark, mysterious, or unintelligible in it; nothing for which he who values himself most upon the character of his reason has any cause to be ashamed.
It is not an enthusiastic principle that first gives cause to dreams and visions, and then supports itself upon imaginations of its own creating.

It is not a supernatural impression proceeding from the immediate agency of God, capriciously bestowed where He pleases to bestow it, and denied where He wills it to be denied. 

It is not an inexplicable feeling of we know not what, conceived we know not how, and cherished we know not why; it is not the persuasion of anything, whether good or evil, concerning either ourselves or any other being, taken up without reason, and maintained upon principle, that may not be duly specified and explained.

It is not a sudden irradiation of the mind, proceeding from whatever cause; it is the natural and necessary result of the principles that compose the human frame.

To a duly formed eye, show any object of the knowable world, and it is seen: to an attentive mind, propose the evidence concerning any truth that respect the invisible world, and in proportion to the strength of that evidence, it is believed. Whatever persuasion is taken up against evidence or without it, is blind presumption, or romantic imagination, and not Faith.

Faith is as much the effect of evidence, as sight is the effect of sensible impression; nor is the one more absolutely dependent on its cause, or more closely connected with it, than the other. It is a law of our nature.

What sight is in the natural world, with respect to things visible and present, Faith is in the spiritual world, with respect to things absent and invisible: to believe, on sufficient evidence, is as natural as to perceive: and in thus believing, there is nothing more unreasonable, inexplicable, or indefensible, than in seeing with our open eyes the prospect that presents itself before us.

Faith then is a principle no more peculiar to religion in general, than it is peculiar to the Christian religion in particular. Even those who are most likely to treat it with ridicule and contempt in the disciples of Christ, are themselves obliged to act upon it every day and every hour of their lives: it is the very principle which, in the ordinary affairs of life, regulates and governs by far the greater part of their thoughts, their affections, and their conduct.

Faith is the principle upon which men resolve and act; there is no other principle that has so constant and extensive an influence upon them. You cannot even go to a place where you have never been, but it is by Faith you go thither. You cannot seek a person you have never seen, but it is by Faith you seek him: the most trivial and most important actions of our lives are almost all equally dependent on it.

Even our moral conduct, in the most serious and most momentous instances, rests on Faith as its foundation. 

The objects to which our knowledge can extend are very few; when the sphere of our affection and activity go beyond these, it is Faith, not knowledge that carries out our views, our passions, and pursuits; it is Faith that directs, supports, and animates them.

Since Faith is a reasonable principle, we have no cause to be ashamed of it.

It may not be improper to observe, that however natural and just the distinction is between faith and reason, it ought not to be made without some caution and restriction.

A great part of what we ordinarily call reason, is indeed faith; and faith is itself an act of reason. To believe upon sufficient testimony, is one among many other characteristics of reason and intelligence.

If Faith is a reasonable principle, we need not be afraid of pursuing it through its consequences. 

Nothing but what is right can come of what is reasonable; it must diverted from its natural course, or corrupted by some foreign intermixture, before it can dictate or induce to what is wrong. If our Faith is the pure result of evidence, it will give us comfort, and do us honor, to show it in our works.

(Adapted from a Sermon by Rev. Newcome Cappe, 1733-1800)

Sunday, September 22, 2019

THE PARABLES: Is Our Faith Built On A Rock, Or Sand? #JesusFollowers


Could a familiar parable of Jesus actually be teaching the opposite of what most pastors teach us about our Good Works and Eternal Life?

Jesus taught his disciples, and all others who came to hear him, using simple stories – parables – that, despite being simple and relatable, also tended to shock those who heard them.

To read the parable of the house built on the rock with new eyes and fresh ears may be shocking to many Christians who are used to hearing a rather watered-down interpretation. 

Viewing this parable in its clear form is uncomfortable to hear, and perhaps that’s why it and its messages is avoided or touched on so lightly by today’s pastors.

Jesus says: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27/ESV)

A "Faith on the Rock" means one in which good works – DOING what Jesus tells us to do in his teachings – actually matters, and are required for entry into God's Eternal Kingdom. This flies in the face of much teaching from today’s Pastors, but Jesus’ words are clear, and can mean nothing else.

The parable cannot simply mean “right belief” or the mere assent to man-made doctrines. Jesus elsewhere condemns "vain words/empty phrases" (Matt. 5:7) and in a verse just previous to this story, we are told by Jesus that not all those who simply shout, "Lord, Lord" but do not follow his commands will enter into the Kingdom.  But only “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21)

And just so that he was clear – and that by “the Kingdom” we would understand that he was referring also to Eternal Life – Jesus elsewhere answered the question, “what must I do to obtain eternal life,” with clarity: Obey God’s commandments. (Mark 10:17-19; Matt. 19:16-17; Luke 18:19-21)

Mere belief in a set of theological statements or accepting stories ABOUT Jesus is not all God asks of us.

And in truth, Jesus taught that our Eternal Life begins HERE, with the earthly establishment of God’s Kingdom. (Matt. 6:10) Our final destination with God, however, is judged by God alone, and it is according to our Works alone, though we do not judge or own fitness for Heaven. (Psalm 62:12; James 4:12; Matt. 7:1; 16:27)

Jesus himself in this parable says we must “DO” the will of God, our Father, by obeying Jesus’ commands, or we will not be fit for God’s Kingdom.  Jesus tells us he did ALL things our Father and his Father, God, told him to do; and he assures us that we, too, may do all that he did. Therefore, he is our perfect example and model in all things.

We, today, cannot avoid or explain away this or any other message our Master tells us, even if it makes us uncomfortable or challenges us to do Good Works and serve others, just as Jesus did.

If we claim we love Jesus, but choose NOT to hear AND DO what he says, we've built our lives on shifting sands, not the Rock of his words. (1 John 2:4) We honor Jesus with our hearts and minds and actions, therefore, when we seek to do what he modeled for us to do with his life and teachings.


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Are We Born Corrupt And "Evil"? #JesusFollowers

We are by nature, when we are born into the world (since we come from the hands of the Creator) innocent and pure, and free from all moral corruption. We are also destitute of all positive holiness; and, until we have, by the exercise of his faculties, actually formed a character either good or bad, an object of the divine complacency and favor.

The complacency and favor of the Creator are expressed in all the kind provisions that God made of things given for our improvement and happiness. We are by nature no more inclined or disposed to vice than to virtue, and are equally capable of either, in the ordinary use of our faculties, and with the common assistance afforded us. We derive from our ancestors a frail and mortal nature; and are made with appetites which fit us for the condition of being in which God has placed us.

We have passions implanted in us [at birth] which are of great importance in the conduct of life, but which are equally capable of impelling us into a wrong or a right course. We have natural affections, all of them originally good, but liable by a wrong direction to be the occasion of error and sin.

We have reason and conscience to direct the conduct of life, and enable us to choose aright, which reason may yet be neglected, or perverted, and conscience misguided. The whole of these together make up what constitutes our trial and probation. They make us accountable beings, able to make a right or wrong choice, being equally capable of either and as free to the one as to the other.

But what of "human depravity?" The question is not whether there is a great deal of wickedness in the world, but what is the source of that wickedness; not whether mankind are very corrupt, but how they become so; whether it is a character born with them, or acquired; whether it is what God made them, or what they have made themselves.

It is easy to bring together into one picture, and place in a strong light, with exaggerated features, all the bad passions in their uncontrolled and unqualified state, all the atrocious crimes that have been committed, all the bad dispositions that have been indulged; but the picture, though it contain nothing, but what is found in us, will be far, very far, from being a just picture of human nature.

Let all that is virtuous, and kind, and amiable, and good, be brought into the picture, and presented also in their full proportions, and the former will be found to constitute a far less part of it, than we were ready to imagine.

Innocence, and simplicity, and purity are the characteristics of early life. Truth is natural; falsehood is artificial. Veracity, kindness, good will flow from the natural feelings. Duplicity, and all the cold, and selfish, and calculating manners of society are the fruit of education, and interaction with the world. We have marks enough of a feeble, helpless nature, calling for assistance, support, kindness; but we see no proofs of depravity, of malignity, of inclination to evil in preference to good.

By our natural birth we only become human, accountable beings. We receive by natural birth only the human nature. We receive no moral character, but only the faculties and powers, in the exercise of which a moral character is to be formed. 

The formation of this character introduces us into a new state of being, and by whatever means, and at whatever time it takes place, we may be called "a new birth." And those who have thus acquired a moral character, and received the principles of a spiritual life, in addition to the natural human life, may be said to be born again.

We have certainly no cause to feel ourselves humbled under a sense of anything that we are by nature. We have occasion to be ashamed only of what we have become by practice. For the nature God has given us no sentiment but that of gratitude is due. Humility and self-condemnation should spring only from the consciousness of a course of life not answering to the powers, and faculties, and privileges of our nature.

Adapted from the writings of Dr. Henry Ware

Sunday, September 8, 2019

What Did #Jesus Mean By "Judge Not?" #JesusFollowers


"Judge not, lest you be judged." (Matt. 7:1)

People who know almost nothing about the teachings of Jesus seem to know that he said, "judge not."

It's is often used by those who are uncomfortable that others are pointing out their bad behavior, and many others view it as a warning to us not to judge anything or anyone. Consequently, it is used as a deflection to avoid criticism, or to attack concept of criticism itself.

But if we were to use no judgment at all to assess our actions or the actions of others, we would be at the mercy of everyone who expressed an opinion.

We would be unable to judge the worthiness of an action before we took it, making us susceptible to every uninformed whim of emotion that confronted us.

The world is filled with those who are selling ideas and products. If we took "judge not" at face value (and far out if its context) we would not be able to resist any sales pitch or any temptation that confronted us, because we would like the judgment to do so and feel that judging would be wrong in all cases.

And if we assumed “judge not” meant that we could not warn others who were about to make a serious mistake in their lives, or help correct someone who was factually wrong, then the world would be (even more) a place of moral chaos.

But the actual context of this saying of Jesus shows that he is addressing hypocrisy, not criticism. And he guides us to prepare ourselves to judge correctly the actions and choices we see around us.

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."

Jesus is warning us against pointing out other's flaws while ignoring one's own flaws. but by no means does he say that we should never warn people that they are about to make mistakes or urge them to live in a different manner. Nor is he making a statement about never using, or building up, our own good judgment.

Jesus himself called out the hypocrisy of the religious elites of his day, the Pharisees. He said they were living outwardly pure lives but inwardly impure ones. He judged the Pharisees.

He attacked the practices of the Temple system in Jerusalem, saying it was not serving God in a pure way by focusing so much on selling animals at a profit to use as Temple sacrifices. He judged the religious leaders.

He told many to stop sinning, repent, and turn to God. He urged him to live holy lives even if that meant great sacrifice. He judged them.

“Watch yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3)

Jesus calls on us to address our own imperfections so that we may be able to help others overcome theirs.

He wants us to live rightly so we can judge rightly. And he wishes us to prepare ourselves so we can help others.

"Do not judge according to appearance," says our Master. "But judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)

What Jesus was urging people to do was to develop a sense of good and sound judgement. That comes to us first by seeking to inwardly change our own lives so that we may then live as a light to the rest of the world. Only then can we show that we are living examples of the kind of life that Jesus modeled for us.

And Jesus has faith that we may do this.

He says, "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher." (Luke 6:40)

So, while we are never to judge harshly or as hypocrites (failing to do what we are calling on others to do) we are nonetheless called by Jesus to model this good behavior for others, telling them about the teachings of our Master, and calling on people to obey everything he taught. This is his Great Commission (Matt. 28:20)

Let's go do this!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Clear Gospel of #Jesus. #JesusFollowers


The clarity of Jesus' Gospel is obvious to all who read his words. The life, teachings and example of Jesus are a clear window onto the Will of God. We do not need to complicate it or make it mysterious in any way.

Jesus lived, taught and died as an example, so that we would follow it and achieve spiritual completion, just as he has done. That is the core of his Gospel - his Good and Beneficial Message to all the world, for which he was chosen, anointed by God and sent into the world to preach.

Jesus is the moral example by which we are able to follow in order to reach spiritual completeness. He perfectly models for us how to serve and to love others the way God wants us to love and serve others.

There is nothing greater than the teachings of Jesus. His words and teachings were not his, but they came from God (John 14:10) who Adopted him as his son at his baptism, anointing him with His Spirit, choosing him among all other sons of men to not only teach, but to BE his teachings – our exemplar in all things.

Jesus said his actions always pleased God (John 8:29) making him our perfect example in all things.

The wonderful message of the Gospel is this: That WE can do all that God asks of us, because another of our kind, Jesus, was able to fully follow God’s commandments and Will for our lives.

But to do as he has done, we must believe that Jesus left us an example that we can really follow.

Jesus teaches: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” And assures us, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 14:15; 13:15.)

Jesus is for us our Model, our Template, our Guide, our Teacher and our Master.

We are first saved from sin by knowledge of his teachings – that we must repent of our sins, turn our faces to God, and walk in righteousness. When we repent of our sins and pledge to walk in God’s righteous paths, we are forgiven by God, who is, “merciful and gracious, long-suffering – forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin." (Exodus 34:6-7)

The Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus tell us that God forgives our sins simply upon sincere repentance.

Jesus tells us God wishes us to repent of our sins – to be sorry that we committed them, and to cease committing the act of sinning. But without a change in our behavior following this, there is no repentance. Without repentance, we are not following Jesus or serving God.

The words, life, teachings and death of our Master, Jesus, challenge us to do, to act, to follow, to serve, to be better, to do more, to try harder, to be humble, yet Righteousness, to serve God not money, to lose ourselves and gain eternity.

Jesus clearly calls us to a life of Good Works, done in humility and compassion. Service to others leads us to Spiritual Completeness.

"By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk the same way in which he walked." (1 John 2:5-6.) 

Jesus challenges us to become Spiritually Complete by actively seeking and DOING Righteousness, relying on God’s holy Spirit to strengthen us and give us courage to do what is right, and true, and just.

Each of us can grow within us a Spiritual Abundance that gives light and hope to the world, and advances God’s Kingdom here and now, in this place.

Let us take up the challenge Jesus makes clear for us in his Gospel’s words and teachings!