Sunday, July 21, 2019

The All-Important "Red Letters" of #Jesus' Words #JesusFollowers


In some publications of the Gospels, the words of Jesus are printed in Red ink, while the other words around them were printed in black ink.

It is a unique and clear acknowledgment that his teachings, his words, his commands, are special and unique, set apart from the other words. Which they certainly are.

It is right for us to focus more intensely and more fervently and prayerfully on Jesus' words than the words around them.

After all, we have one Master, and that is Jesus alone. No other man, and no others' words, carry as much weight and have as much value as his words do.

Jesus himself said that everything God, our Creator and Father, told him, he relayed to the disciples (Matt. 15.15.) And Jesus said that our Father was pleased with all that he did (John 8:29, Matt. 12:18, 17:5.)

Since Jesus was so in tune perfectly with our Creator, should we not listen more carefully to what he SAYS? Yes, we should.

In fact, Jesus says that his words will never pass away (Matt. 24:35.) If this is true, should we not listen and obey them?

Please, then, read the Red Letters. Put the into practice in your daily lives. Listen to what Jesus is saying to us.

He is calling upon us to obey his teachings and call others to do so (Matt. 28:20, John 14:15.) His teachings are the only "solid rock" we can build a true and genuine faith upon (Matt. 7:24-26.) His teachings are the final authority by which God will judge us (Matt. 16:27.)

His parables all teach us that we are called by God to perform Good Works.

His Sermon on the Mount teaches us guideposts for a radical Faith when we engage with others, even our enemies.

When Jesus reached out to those in need of Spiritual healing, he taught us to live lives of radical service towards others.

His interactions with the poor, the despised, the hopeless and the diseased teaches us that we must not shun others, but to actively have compassion for them.

He teaches us to live Godly, pure and holy lives, and not to do so to heap praise on ourselves, but to honor our Creator.

His calling out of the religious elites of his day teach us to be bold in our Righteous acts, and not give in to hypocrisy or to claim we are righteous because we use vain words or cling to traditions of churchmen.

His challenging calls to be merciful and live lives of moral perfection teach us that we must avoid a lazy, easy religion, but instead seek to be better, more holy, joyful, and Spiritually Complete (Luke 6:36, Matt. 5:48, John 15:11.)

Jesus calls himself a Prophet, chosen by God at his baptism to be God's spokesman (Mark 6:4, Luke 9:35.) Jesus was sent out into the world by God to teach a message of hope, love and service, and to be an example to us today by his actions and words (Mark 1:38, Luke 18:22.)

We are called to do all the he did, teaching others to obey his commands and bring God's Kingdom onto this earth by our acts of Righteousness, becoming more Godly each and every day.

Let us read the Red Letters, and write Jesus' teachings upon our hearts, so that we may be Lights among others, living as he, himself lived.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

#Jesus Wants Our INTENTIONAL Good Works, Not "Random Acts" #JesusFollowers

It's popular today to see admonitions for us to do "random acts of kindness." And in a world that is often unkind, that's certainly a step in the right direction. We know that kindness has a way of rippling out into the world, touching many people in a chain of goodness. And that, of course, should be applauded.

But as followers of Jesus, we have a higher calling than that. Not only should these acts be random, they should be INTENTIONALLY done, meaning, On Purpose, and all the time.

Jesus didn't say we ought to do good occasionally, or when we felt like it, but that we should do good as a way of spreading the Kingdom of God here on earth.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "When you do Good Works..." He did not say "if you choose to do Good Works," or "If God gives you the ability to do Good Works," or any other variant. He, as our Master ("lord") simply commands us to follow his teachings, as if he ACTUALLY expects us to follow his lead! (Imagine that!)

In short, if we have made him our Master, we are called to a life of joyful obedience.

Jesus' parables are filled with urgings and promptings to do Good.

The Good Samaritan comes to mind immediately. Of all who walked by the man who had been beaten and left for dead along a road - including "religious" people of Jesus' day who assured themselves of their Elect Status with God - only one acted in a merciful way that pleased God and helped the man in distress. "Go and do likewise" says Jesus.

In the Parable of The Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) Jesus illustrates that we are to put our talents to good use here in the world, and not wait for some distant future where all things will be made right.

Jesus tells a parable of a Rich Fool  (Luke 12:13-21) illustrating that "life does not consist in an abundance of possessions," and warns against those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God, and others. Elsewhere (Matt. 12:35) Jesus says we ought to lay up goodness in our hearts, from where goodness can flow out into the world.

In his teachings, Jesus said we should "do Good" even to our enemies. (Luke 6:35) And Jesus told the Religious Elites of the day that, contrary to their practice, even on the Sabbath Day, it was appropriate to "do Good" (Matt. 12:12.) Of Jesus, it was said that "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth, "and "he went around doing Good ... because God was with him" (Acts 10:38)

Finally, Jesus in a parable of sheep and goats (Matt. 25:31-46) spells out specific ways in which we ought to be acting, and warns that God will judge us not according to our intentions (or our creeds, or our endless songs of praise or prayers) but by our acts.

"Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

As Micah the Prophet said, "He has shown you, O man, what is Good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?"

Doing Good is not an option. Jesus, our Master, commands it. If we say we love him, we'll obey his teachings, and do Good, continually. (John 14-15)

"I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you," says Jesus (John 1315.) Let's go out into the world and do Good!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Called by God's Anointed One To Seek Moral Perfection #JesusFollowers


The following little message was posted on facebook by a popular Christian TV minister:
“God knows we're not perfect. We all have faults and weaknesses and make mistakes, but God loves us anyway.”
The concepts expressed here are not controversial among modern Christians. The fact that we aren't perfect is completely correct, of course, as is the fact that we have faults and make mistakes. The fact that God loves us despite these faults and mistakes is also completely true.

So, what’s wrong with this seemingly harmless statement of facts? What’s wrong is what’s been left out, and the conclusions that the reader of such a statement is likely to draw from it.


Today’s Christians are likely to easily, perhaps too easily, embrace the idea that imperfection, faults, weaknesses and mistakes are so natural to our Nature that we are bound, in all senses of that word, as moral slaves – to continue wallowing in them and never overcome them.


The old bumper sticker slogan that “Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven,” is typical of this sentiment. The idea that we are destined by fate (and by our “flesh”) to continue to sin, is baked into the Christian message so thoroughly that it seems entirely natural that this is the message Jesus brought to us: “we are all sinners, but not to worry, we’re forgiven.” 


Martin Luther wrote that we should give up all hope of not sinning: “Be a sinner, and let your sins be BOLD. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.:


Period. End of message. Right? Not quite.


In truth, the message that Jesus preached – for which he was chosen, adopted and anointed by God as His only Son, and sent by Him to preach to the world – was not to simply accept us for who we are, it was to challenge us to strive to become morally perfect HERE, just as God is perfect IN HEAVEN.


While it’s obviously true that we will always stumble, make mistakes and fall short of God’s full glory, we are to always strive towards that Goal – the Goal that Jesus sets for us and knows we can achieve, in a way we don't even suspect we are able to achieve. 

Striving for the Kingdom of God, by repenting of our sins, pursuing righteousness through good works in the name of God, and following the perfect path of Jesus, all the while seeking God’s forgiveness for our shortcomings – this is the path Jesus set out for us to follow. 


Not only must we seek God’s forgiveness, we are required as a condition of receiving that forgiveness the granting of others forgiveness when they offend us. 


God does not wish us to remain “just as we are” in terms of our actions, attitudes and shortcomings, He wishes us to achieve the fullness of what He, our Creator, knows we CAN be. Since the dawn of human history, God has known all about human beings, and of what we are capable. He knows we can obey Him, and that we have done so repeatedly in past generations, just as He knows we are free to disobey His commandments. 


God chose and sent Jesus, His Anointed Prophet, to proclaim this Good and Beneficial Message (Gospel) to us, and to be a perfect example in his teachings, life and death that we should know it can be done by a human being. By becoming Jesus Followers, we accept the challenge Jesus gives to us to take up our cross and follow him and pursue God’s righteousness.



Selected Scripture:
 


“You are to be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 


“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34 


“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Mark 6:14-15 


"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” Luke 4:18 


“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matt. 5:16 


“Yahweh dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me. For I have kept the ways of Yahweh, and have not wickedly departed from my God.” Psalms 18:20-21 


“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” 1 John 2:1 


“Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” 1 John 3:7

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Message of #Jesus: Change, Love, Act, and Serve. #JesusFollowers


To follow Jesus is to follow the one whom we believe God chose and commissioned from among us human beings to be our template and example to follow in all things. 

This Jesus calls us to be fully transformed and changed by his teachings, and these teachings of his are the only basis for an authentic faith in his God and our God.

These teachings of Jesus call us to action, to change our lives, to change our attitudes, to change our behaviors, and to shed our false but stubborn beliefs, so that we may become the authentic human beings God wants us to become.

What does he call us to do?

First, Jesus says we must change.  Jesus, along with the Hebrew prophets who came before him, called people to “repent” which means to feel sorry for falling short of God’s will for our lives in our actions. To repent means that we are ready to change our actions and to seek to be better people, whether we’ve never sought this before or whether we’ve simply become lazy in our religious lives. We all come before God “as we are,” but we must not expect to remain unchanged by the message Jesus preaches – we are transformed by it into something better, more whole, more complete. (Psalm 51:17; Mark 6:12: Matt. 4:17; Luke 13:5)

Then Jesus calls us to Love. We are not called by Jesus to just strongly “like” people and things, but to Love them – a pure, strong, holy Love that transcends our trivial reasons for liking or hating people or objects. Jesus calls us to direct this Love both toward God and our neighbors. God, meaning the One, authentic, indivisible, and invisible God of Israel, Yahweh; and our neighbors, being those who are around us. And yet, we are not to just Love those who Love us back, but those who don’t even know us, and even those who hate us. THAT is the pure Love that Jesus calls us to show. (Matt. 5:44; 6:7; Mark 12:30; Luke 6:27)

Jesus calls us to Act. The faith Jesus preached is never supposed to be a lazy faith. Jesus does not call us to simply meditate on God, or on him, nor can we simply send vain words to Heaven and think  that we’ve done God’s will. Only those who act on his teachings are his servants. And it is our Righteous actions alone that God wishes us to identify as “our faith.” (Psalm 11:7; Matt. 7:21; Matt. 7:22-24; James 1:2; 2:17; 1 John 3:7)

Jesus calls us to Serve. Jesus says we are to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to house the homeless, to comfort and show compassion to those who in anguish. These aren’t throw-away lines in a play no one is watching.

These words and teachings of Jesus’ weren’t meant for another age, or simply to show us how HE acted, but didn’t expect us to do them, too (as if we could, by simply reading his actions, claim them as our own, vicariously.) Jesus assures us that we can do all that he did. Only those who are seeking to act on his words are his friends. We love him by seeking to do as he did, and nothing less. (Matt. 7:24, 13;31; John 8:31; John 14:12)

And what happens when we fall short of Jesus’ teachings, and the high standards God sets for our lives? Jesus calls us to ask for God’s forgiveness, and assures us that God is endlessly merciful and forgiving. God is pleased when we seek to step back on the path of Righteousness, like a child returning to his Father. (Matt. 5:7; Luke 15)

Jesus teaches us to endlessly and without hesitation extend forgiveness to others, in the same way God forgives those who return to him in repentance. When asked how many times we must forgive others, Jesus said, "70 times 7 times." (Matt. 18:21-22; Luke 17:3-4; Ex. 33:19)

This Jesus-centered religion of service – active service built on pure Love – is what Jesus calls us all to practice. And this man, Jesus, not only teaches us what God expects of us, he gives us an example that we, too, can follow. If we follow this example, we please God, who is both our Creator and Judge, and we will not only live a more whole, complete and joyful life here, but will, God-willing, rest with Him eternally.

So, let us Work Righteousness in this world, doing all we can to be an example of the light of God that was born within us, kindled into Good Works by the saving example of Jesus, and inflamed by God's ongoing help and graceful encouragement.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Human Beings Are Not "Born Wretched!" #JesusFollowers

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me."

Amazing Grace is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful hymns ever written. And yet, underlying it is an idea that is so toxic to our faith that it needs to be exposed and explored.

We all feel wretched at times -"wretched" meaning vile, despicable or just profoundly unhappy. Whether it's something we did to ourselves or to others, or just a vague feeling of unworthiness, the idea of being "a wretch" resonates with many because it speaks to our humanity, and how we're failing to live up to the best of what we can be.

But, in religious terms, pastors and theologians mean it in a very literal and perhaps very different way than many of us understand it. So, it's worth exploring what they mean.

Nearly 400 years after Jesus preached in Galilee and Jerusalem, a Roman Catholic Bishop named Augustine wrote that it what is not possible for human beings to not sin ("non posse non peccare") That, he said, is our natural condition, and only God, reaching down and doing Good through us, can achieve goodness on the earth.

Soon, the Catholic Church made this rather negative doctrine of humanity their belief, and it was continued by Protestants like Martin Luther and John Calvin when they broke away from Rome a thousand years later.

Now, what's offensive about saying that we are born "broken" beings before encountering Jesus in Baptism, where we are born again, or when, as a baby, this "sin stain" is washed away by sprinkling? 

There's certainly some truth to the idea that before we gain knowledge of Jesus' perfect teachings and example, which show us how God wishes us to live, we have in imperfect path to follow towards God, if we have any at all. But is that the same as saying we are "wretched" or "totally inclined towards all evil," and depraved?

This belief is dangerous because it robs us of both our ultimate accountability to God and free will, and it makes independent action by human being impossible.

This has the effect of making us mere puppets of God, rather than the glorious beings He created us to become. Needless to say, Jesus never taught it, making it unworthy of our belief.

This doctrine allows people to say that we are born hopelessly unable to do any good things in the eyes of God, and that we remain helpless to obey or do Good. They use the excuse that the first man, Adam, fell from God's grace and passed on this curse radical Disobedience to us, his descendants.

But scripture itself contradicts this. Adam's own son is portrayed as fully able to avoid sin, if he had chosen to do so (Gen. 4:6-7.) Prophets throughout the Hebrew scriptures vigorously call out to Jews and non-Jews alike (for example, Jonah and the Ninevites, Jonah 3:10) to turn to God and obey his Righteousness, with no reference to their inherited inability to do Good.

Not once was there ever any statement by them that it was somehow impossible to obey God because of a "curse" or any other reason. In fact, the prophets made it clear that it was imperative for them to do Righteousness, and that they would be judged by God according to their deeds.

Jesus fully echoes this message in his Gospel, which makes no mention of an inability of even children to obey. In fact, Jesus says the innocence and purity children show in their Faith should be emulated by all (Matt. 19:14.)

We possess the God-given moral ability to turn back to God after turning our back on Him, or to do so even if we've never heard the Gospel before. King David turned from his wretched behavior to serve God "with clean hands." The Ninevites turned away from evil. We may, too.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Necessity of Good Works #JesusFollowers


Jesus has made believers his peculiar people, by giving himself for them, a people zealous, not of rites and ceremonies, but of good works.

When our Lord, and his apostles, have laid such stress upon good works, and have frequently declared them indispensable as a condition of salvation, none, who profess Christianity, can neglect the practice of them, without the extreme peril of their souls.

This being the great end of Christ Jesus’ life and death, none who profess to be preachers of the Gospel can speak of good works with contempt or indifference, without bringing a grievous offense upon the faith of Jesus. Woe will be to them, by whom such offense comes.

After even this brief and imperfect discussion, I hope we see enough in our text to justify the eminent individual, to whom I have alluded, in resting his soul upon it; enough to awaken our minds to hope and duty.

How willing, how desirous is he to reconcile sinners to himself, saying, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die” (Ezek. 33:11) is his expostulation by the prophet. He observes by the prophet Jeremy to the Jews, and through them to all men, “Yet I sent all my servants the prophets to you again and again, saying, ‘Do not do this repulsive thing that I hate.’" (Jer. 44:4)

And in the New Testament, behold God sent out His only Son to seek and save the lost, and the train of the apostles and evangelists; all beseeching us to be reconciled to God. Let our hearts be melted by all this grace; let not one resist all this superabundant mercy.

There being such earnestness on the part of God for our salvation; and the Savior having done and suffered so much for this great end, some seem easy and confident, that salvation for all men and all characters is made certain, without any active concurrence on their part.

Let it be remembered that the very grace of God requires, in order to salvation, a renovation of heart, and purity of life. It teaches, that ungodliness must be denied, worldly lusts renounced and forsaken, that men must live in sobriety, righteousness, and godliness, and be redeemed from all iniquity, purified a peculiar people to Christ, zealous of good works.

It is in vain, then, for any of us to take encouragement from the grace of God, great, wonderful as it is, except, at the same time, we yield ourselves to the condition, on which it brings salvation. We must be divorced from sin, or renounce the hope of salvation. In the Gospel plan, and in the nature of things, sin and salvation cannot go together. 

Let us, then, abandon false hopes, and judge truly, that no step is taken toward salvation, any farther than it is taken in renouncing sin. Judge, then, my dear hearers, judge of your hope and prospect of the great salvation, precisely according to the degree in which you die unto sin and live unto righteousness, are dead to the world, and alive unto God.

From: “Sermons by the Late Rev. Abiel Abbot of Beverly, MA” (1831) by S. Everett.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

We're Responsible To God For Our Own Actions! #JesusFollowers


There is no truth more clearly taught in in the scriptures than this: that God will render to every man according to his deeds. The scriptures contain scores of passages which teach us that God will bring every work into judgement, whether it be good or whether it be evil.

Being accountable to God for our actions, those who set His laws at defiance are justly deserving of a punishment, and can be sure of their reward.

In relation to the native characters of human beings, we all came into the world pure; that is, free from any innate depravity, and are born into the world without a moral character; we neither possess any positive virtue, nor actual vice; but we inherit a nature which is capable of both. We cannot believe a God of infinite mercy would bring His own offspring into being under a load of hereditary guilt. 

We also cannot admit that infants in all ages are "liable to the pains of hell forever," in consequence of the sin of our first parents – a sin committed without their knowledge or agency, and thousands of years before they had a being.

The scriptures teach us that infants are free from moral defilement. Our Savior took up little children in his arms and blessed them, and pronounced them heirs of his kingdom. But if they had been totally depraved, filled with all that is evil, would he have taken them up in his arms and blessed them?

Had they been embryos of hell, as they are frequently represented, Jesus would not have pronounced them heirs of his kingdom. Again, our Master says, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:3)

With these, and several other passages before us, we are constrained to believe that we are born into the world pure. The doctrine of imputation appears to be cruelly unjust. Every man is accountable for himself, and for himself alone. The scriptures assure us that, "the father shall not bear the iniquity of the son, nor the son the iniquity of the father." (Ezek. 18:20)

Such passages entirely destroy the doctrine of imputation. All who arrive at years of understanding are depraved in some degree, but their depravity is of their own making.

How is it possible to transfer the guilt of Adam's sin to me? I cannot be criminal, unless I have a consciousness of committing the act, and I cannot have this consciousness of committing the act, unless I have in fact committed it; and if I have in fact committed the sin, it ceases to be Adam's, and becomes my own.

The doctrine of total depravity appears to impeach both the wisdom and goodness of the Deity. If we are the subjects of this total corruption, the revelation which God has given us would be useless.  If God requires all to love him, was it wise of Him to give us a nature which would forever prevent our compliance?

The scriptures assure that God will punish sin. But does it not infringe upon His goodness to say He will punish us for our sins which the nature He gave us compels us to perform? 

There is no truth more sacred than this: that we are accountable for our actions, just as far as we have an ability to perform our duty, and no farther. Whenever you limit our ability to do good, there our accountability ceases.

We must contend for moral virtue. I object to the contemptuous manner in which some speak of morality. Some denounce moral excellence as "dry morality," and insinuate that it is akin to infidelity. If moral goodness is the fruit of infidelity, then give us infidelity in preference to that Christianity which teaches us to slight virtuous actions. 

We may perform good actions from bad motives. In such a case, there is no moral worth in such an act. But if we perform good actions from benevolent motives, they are in the exercise of practical Christianity. Whoever does to others as they desire them to do to him, obeys the requirement of the religion of Jesus.

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father," (James 1:27) consists in gratitude to God, good will to others, and watchfulness over our own conduct. 

If we do not exercise charity one to another; if we do not deal justly with our fellow creatures, our religion is of a spurious kind. As Christians, it is our duty to correct our own faults, rather than point out those of others.

We should so favor excellence of character, so that all preaching ought to be directed to this one object, namely, to make people better. Religion in theory should not be valued as much as in practice. Further, religion has no value unless it effects the conduct and renders people virtuous and good. Not that theoretical religion doesn’t have worth, but its value lies entirely in its influence upon the mind and the heart.

That system of doctrines which does not exert an influence over the person is useless. Every scheme, therefore, which is made up of cold speculations which cannot warm the affections, or of inexplicable mysteries which no mortal can comprehend, is not worth professing.

(Adapted from a Sermon by Rev. Charles Hudson, 1795-1881)