Sunday, July 22, 2018

An Authentic Gospel Leads to Our Authentic Selves. #JesusFollowers


It is said that a sculptor was asked how he carved a great work of art out of a large slab of marble. He replied that he simply carved away all the parts that were NOT part of the sculpture.

Jesus calls us to an authentic Faith - a Faith of action that sheds those things that are keeping us from becoming spiritually complete.


There is within us an ideal person - the person God created us to be, and one that God KNOWS we can be. When we allow the inauthentic and false parts to be chipped away, our authentic and true selves emerge.

Today, when we hear that we need to be "authentic," many imagine that this has something to do with our clothing and how we present ourselves to others. While that's somewhat true, in Faith, wearing a more authentic set of clothes can be a new, trendier way of continuing to mask false beliefs and attitudes.

Jesus often spoke of being "true" - by which he meant we must be genuine and authentic both on the inside and out.

Jesus called out the Pharisees for being inauthentic. They were like tombs on the inside and all bright and shiny on the outside. 

He wasn't calling for the Pharisees to also become rotten on the outside, as well as on the inside, so that they "matched" - although that certainly would have made them "true to themselves" in one sense. He was instead calling on them to carve away all the non-ideal portions of their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. 

Our false and ungodly parts have perhaps been with us for many years; attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that are false and hinder our spiritual growth have encrusted us like shavings of marble that cover our true selves and keep us from God, as well as from Godliness.

But draping trendy clothing on a slab of marble that is encrusted like this will not help. How silly it would be for an artist to simply cover up a slab of marble with a sheet or a jacket and say "I'm done!" or "It's fine just the way it is!"

And yet, there are those in christianity today who believe simply wearing cooler clothing, using more "relevant" cultural references and having a rock band perform during a church service will make what they're saying better and truer. It does not. 

Like the Pharisees, who took away the “key to knowledge,” and failed to guide others to it (Luke 11:52) many today claim that the path to salvation is easy, and the gate to Heaven is wide - requiring no changes WITHIN us and nothing FROM us. They are not speaking to us about the knowledge of true and authentic Righteousness Jesus calls us to seek, so that we may achieve spiritual completion in Godliness by transforming our behavior.

No, instead, they condemn and even ridicule the Good Works Jesus tells us we must perform in order to become lights to the world (and to achieve salvation with God eternally.) And they are doing it, not with the Puritanical clothing, stern words and majestic organ music of past generations, but with blue jeans, accompanied by rock music and a light show.

One has to think that it's not even the hip clothing and shiny, large buildings that are offensive to God - because styles of clothing and music certainly change - but it's the wicked lies told by the hiply-dressed pastors within them that are truly offensive. Spoiled milk poured into new cartons is still spoiled.

We must have the courage to embrace the Authentic Gospel in order to become our Authentic Selves.

Jesus alone provides us this Authentic Gospel. He said of his own teachings, "The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is TRUE [authentic/genuine] and in him there is no falsehood." John 7:18 (ESV)

Jesus calls us to be authentic, and that starts with knowing God - the one, authentic, indivisible God of Israel. It starts with knowing the man Jesus, whom God chose and commissioned from among us human beings to be our template and example to follow in all things.

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 words of Jesus call us to action, not just to change our clothing, but 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.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

When Trials & Troubles Come Our Way #JesusFollowers


We can be assured that in our lives, we will face trials and troubles, conflict and chaos. But we know that God will always be with us as a source of comfort and strength.

We are confronted with unpleasant and angry people, at work and in our families.

We are torn by indecision and conflict, both within ourselves and among others.

We are given chances to lives immorally and treat others unjustly.

And we are faced with challenges that threaten our passion for righteousness and goodness.

But God is with us as our source of strength and wisdom, to guide us in times of trouble.

"Don't be afraid," God assures us. "because I'm with you, don't be anxious, because I am your God. I keep on strengthening you; I'm truly helping you. I'm surely upholding you with my victorious right hand." (Isaiah 41:10)

Our God "gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak" (Is. 40:29.)

Jesus, the one whom God chose to be our example and teacher in all things, says we can call upon God in prayer when we need strength, peace and comfort.

To hope for a life of ease, without any problems and a guarantee of wealth,  power, health and fame is not the Way Jesus promises us. Instead, Jesus tells us what the Prophets of old told us, that we are not alone because we have God with us.

We are to find peace not in a vague IDEA of Jesus, but in the life, message and death of this man that God chose and sent out to us as a supreme example.

Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." (John 14:27)

And, further, he says, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Peace, or "shalom," was, and remains, a greeting for the Jewish people. It signals that God's peace is with us, and that we may take comfort in God's sheltering arms.

The Psalmist assures us that, "Yahweh is my strength and my shield. My heart has trusted in Him, and I am helped. Therefore my heart greatly rejoices. With my song I will thank Him." (Psalm 28:7)

James the Brother of Jesus says trials and troubles strengthen us and make us more perfect (James 1:2-4.) Wisdom is freely given from God, if we ask for it in faith, he says (1:5.)

We may call upon God for wisdom in our times of need, knowing He provides us with all the strength and wisdom we ask of Him (Matt. 7:7.)

We are urged by Jesus to "remain steadfast" and "endure to the end" (Mark 13:13) seeking after Heavenly treasure when we go to God in prayer (Matt. 6:20; 6:33)

Again, Jesus calls us to hear his words and understand them, bearing fruit and harvesting good works in this world. But when we allow his words to fall on rocky soil, "when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word" that person "immediately" falls away (Matt. 13:20-23.) We must instead by firmly rooted in the teachings of Jesus and the knowledge that God has given us through him and through the Wisdom of the Scriptures.

And as the winds of turmoil beat against our lives, if we remain planted firmly in the rock of Jesus' teachings, we will prevail against them. (Matt. 7:24-27)

When we trust in God and follow the one whom He has chosen, we need never fear whatever the world throws at us, because we can endure to the end.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Making OTHERS The Focus of Our Faith #JesusFollowers


What should the focus of our faith be? The teachings of Jesus give us a clear answer, if we only listen to him, and take his words seriously, as if they are coming from our God-appointed Master (which of course, they are!)

Jesus calls us to deny ourselves take up our cross and follow him. (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23.) We are to be “other-centered,” not focused on Self.

Jesus calls us to self-denial, to serve others beyond even their demands. "If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles (Matt. 5:41.)

Jesus calls on us to live a life of self-denial, not to make ourselves fat, comfortable, wealthy and detached from the cares of Others. We must, if we love Jesus, serve these Others first, and do so with a perfect self-sacrifice, as modeled by none other than Jesus himself (Matt. 20:28; John 13:15.)

And yet, with a perverse sense of self-entitlement, some make God into their own Servant, rather than making God the object of our service and love.

We are called to fully serve God and fully serve our fellow human beings. But many in Christendom - the modern bearer of the Christ's name - often find a way to make our lives, and our faith, all about serving and enriching ourselves. This perverts the Gospel Jesus taught.

If your "Church" is telling you that you are ENTITLED to material success, then your church is speaking against Jesus.

Jesus calls us to serve and lose ourselves in that service. The early disciples of Jesus left ALL - friends, family, material goods, homes, jobs - to follow Jesus (Luke 18:28.)

Jesus assures us that storing up "goods" in Heaven is far greater than storing up material goods - which rust and fall apart (Matt. 6:20.)

If your "Church" is telling you that you CANNOT be Righteous, and that Jesus did all the "work" of "being righteous" FOR YOU 2,000 years ago, then your "church" is lying, and the entire message of Jesus testifies against this horrible doctrine.

It is the one who does Righteousness, not the one who merely says they "have it", that actually is righteous (Matt. 5:20; Isaiah 33:15.) Jesus said we must stop sinning and serving the Self, that we must turn instead to God, and begin seeking (and doing) Righteousness, serving God and obeying God’s commands.

If your "Church" tells you that the cut-throat approach to business and life is the right one, and you should emulate it, RUN from that "Church" Because selfish ambition and jealousy lead to disorder and corruption (James 3:16.)

And if your "Church" lashes out at the concepts of Knowledge, Wisdom, and following the Teachings of Jesus and instead says it's okay to be selfish, this is a place isolated from God's Will (Prov. 18:1.) Again: RUN AWAY. Fast.

What does all this mean for us in our daily lives?

We're called by Jesus to love our neighbor just as we would love ourselves (Mark 12:31) to even love our enemies with just as much strength (Matt. 5:44.) This often, almost always, means putting OTHERS ahead of ourselves. Serving others often means putting our desires on hold, and serving, rather than to be served (Mark 10:45.)

Is this HARD? Yes, it can be hard to put others above yourself. But we were never promised a wide gate (Matt. 7:13) easy religion when we promised we would follow the teachings, life and example of Jesus.

James, the brother of Jesus, puts it like this: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." (James 1:27.)

Jesus is our perfect example (by his Righteous acts) of God's Will for our lives. We must seek to follow Jesus in all things, meekly and humbly seeking God and God's Kingdom first (Matt. 6:33) above our own needs and desires, and relying on God's forgiveness when we fall short, forgiving others as we expect to be forgiven by God.

So, let us turn our hearts to God's way, and not to selfish gain (Psalm 119:36)! Let's show by our Lights (Matt. 5:14) and our Deeds (James 2:18) what kind of Faith we have in God's anointed Spokesman, Jesus!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

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, June 24, 2018

Did Jesus Promise His Followers Material Prosperity? #JesusFollowers


A passage in the Gospel of Luke gives many today the idea that Jesus teaches us that God wants us to be rich – and if we only give out money (to others, especially to Evangelical Christian ministers) – then God will make us rich, too!

Luke 6:38 reads: "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

This has become a very popular “proof text” to show that God indeed wants us to become wealthy in this life as a sign of His blessing and “favor” above other people.

But those who assert this are not at all hearing the plain (and clear) words God’s chosen, anointed one, Jesus.

In fact, taken in context, Jesus was speaking of reciprocity – doing to others as we would have others do to (and for) us:

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

This is a call to serve and give to others both equally and generously, and for us to serve and give to those who are serving US just as generously – without judgment or condemnation. How wrong it is to turn this into a "Return on Investment" scheme in which we contractually force God into paying us when we give his ministers money!

If we actually listen to Jesus, he speaks clearly to us about wealth – and in fact, he speaks about wealth and poverty perhaps more than on any other topic. 

"And he said to them, 'Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his  possessions.'" (Luke 12:15) 

Is that a clear message about seeking wealth and earthly possessions? How frequently Evangelical pastors forget to quote THIS verse!

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21

The message begins: “DO NOT lay up for yourselves treasures on earth.” Is that a message that tells us we will be showered with wealth in this life? Clearly, it’s not the money we acquire, it’s the goodness in our hearts and the purity of our actions that "lay up treasure" in Heaven.

And when the one we call “Master” says, “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24) how much clearer does he have to be?

Jesus also told a Rich Man who asked what he must do to be saved (after telling him to obey the commandments) to sell his possessions (Mark 10:17-22.) What would a well-off family today think when told they must do this to be Saved? Can you imagine how surprised they would be!

And yet, many church-attenders today have been taught by their pastors that if they think positive thoughts, have a lot of faith, and “name and claim” the material goods they desire, God will instantly give these things to them.

But we are not told by Jesus to “name and claim” riches in the name of God. This is magic, not the God-centered faith Jesus preached. Instead, Jesus says repeatedly and plainly that we should not put our trust in earthly riches, NOR SHOULD WE SEEK THEM, instead seeking the Kingdom of God and praying that we may bring God’s Righteousness into our own lives, and on this earth.

What Jesus preached was consistent with the Wisdom of the Prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures.

"Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf." we learn from the Proverbs (11:28.)

The Pslamist writes, "Though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them" (Psalm 62:10.) And warns about those who, "trust their riches and brag about their abundant wealth" (Psalm 49:6.) and warns against "the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth" (Psalm 52:7.)

Jesus and the Hebrew Bible instead both call us to be rich in Righteous ACTIONS, even if we are poor in our finances. Jesus and Scripture both teach that riches are judged by what we accrue in Heaven, not on earth. And both teach that poverty in spirit is worse than poverty in material wealth. In fact, material wealth often gets in the way of spiritual wealth.

Calling upon God for money, and measuring God’s "favor" and blessings by the money we acquire from God makes God into a Heavenly ATM machine, where we get whatever we wish and our desires are gratified, instantly. 

Whenever Jesus opens his mouth, his message negates this gross parody of God’s Kingdom.

Let us serve God with abundant spiritual Riches, loving God and our fellow human beings as Jesus calls us to do for the sake of God’s Kingdom. As we do this, we will grow eternally in Heavenly Riches that will never fade away and rust and moth cannot never touch.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

#Jesus Calls Us To Live A Life Of Love #JesusFollowers




The life of love to God and to our fellow human beings will be a life of action and of service. In the view of Jesus, love is an energetic power which sets all the faculties of the soul in vigorous operation.

If we truly love God, we will do His will. It avails us nothing to profess allegiance which is not evidenced by obedience. The way of righteousness is a strait one, and is entered by a narrow gate; that is, the Christian life is not a lax and lawless life, but one on which strict and strenuous demands are made.

Jesus often depicts in his parables the nature of the true life as involving watchfulness, fidelity, and labor. “Why do you stand here idle all day?” (Matt. 20:6) is the challenge of the Master in the parable of the Vineyard. Jesus’ disciples are laborers, servants, stewards. Their life is one of duty and responsibility.

He taught his disciples that they were not merely to love those who loved them, but to love also those who hated and injured them: "I say unto you, Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully abuse you." Why? “In order that you may become [or, prove yourselves to be] the sons of your Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 5:43-44)

From these passages it is clear that one's "neighbor" is anyone whom we can help, and that love is, by its nature, large and generous, giving out in sympathy and service to all who come within the reach of its power.

For Jesus, love is not a calculating prudence which renders its services because it hopes for reward in return. No, to love God is to choose his perfect life as our pattern and goal, and to live in the spirit of it. Such is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it. Love to man is shown in a Love to Godlike estimate and treatment of others.

Such love requires that we strive to realize for our fellow human beings the achievement of divine love; that we view the rights and value of others as equal to our own, and regard and treat others in accord with those universal principles and laws of love and truth which are disclosed in God's treatment of human beings.

The righteousness of God is perfect, holy love, and the law of love for us is our likeness to God in our attitude and action.

When he was asked for a law by the observance of which one might attain eternal life, he cited the law of love. Love, then, is righteousness. The kingdom and the righteousness of God are to be sought and won by loving God supremely, and one's neighbor as himself.

But what, then, is love, and what specifically does love require? The elements of the true righteousness, which consists in love, may readily be gathered from the Sermon on the Mount. The qualities listed in the Beatitudes - humility, meekness, mercy, purity of heart, and peace - are among the characteristics of a true love to God and our fellow human beings.

Love prompts us to good deeds, to reconciliation with others, to self-restraint and discipline, to straight-forwardness and truthfulness in speech, to kindness and a forgiving spirit, even toward those who have done us injury.

Jesus often illustrated what such love requires: thereby affording us a clear view of his conception of love's nature. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a striking example. (Luke 10:30-37) In it, Jesus shows us at once what is the scope and the action of true love. Such love is universal; it knows nothing of the boundaries which separate social classes.

The law of love demands that even a despised Samaritan, if in distress, shall be served and helped. It requires something more than a compassionate sentiment or a patronizing pity. It requires action and effort, and, if need be, sacrifice. It is not satisfied with the theoretic sympathy which says, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," (James 2:16) but demands that what the sufferer's necessities require be done.

Love also requires us to always be ready to forgive injuries upon condition of repentance on the part of the wrong-doer. Forgiveness on our part is conceived by Jesus (Matt. 6:16-17) as a condition that precedes our reception of God's forgiveness, because the forgiving spirit is a test and measure of the desire for God-likeness.

Those whose readily grant forgiveness to any who have injured them shows themselves to be among those who embrace the life of love - recognizing, honoring, and obeying Jesus’ teachings.

If we wish to reap the benefits of the divine law of love, then we must consent to put our own lives under its sway. Love is a reciprocal principle; it is a law of right relationships among persons. Hence, the bestowal of the benefits of divine love calls for attitudes of humility and obedience on our part.

(Adapted from a Sermon by Rev. George Barker Stevens)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

#Jesus Calls Us to a Life of Works, Action, Love and Service! #JesusFollowers


God equips us, from birth, with gifts that are meant to be used for Good.

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

Jesus, God's spokesman and our example, did not chart out for us any new way to earn God's favor and eternal life. In truth, he taught the same path that always was, and always will be, the true path to eternal life; namely, keeping the commandments, or loving God and our neighbor, which is the same thing, and is the sum and substance of the God’s Moral Law.

Jesus' call, "whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" (Matt. 7:12) summaries his entire ministry and the Hebrew Bible's moral teaching.

By following after the path God wishes us to lead – the path of Righteousness – we will live fuller, more complete and more joyful lives. Jesus lays out for us this path clearly, plainly, and in a way that needs no further revelations or elaboration from men.

Jesus has clearly called us to a life of works and action, of radical love and service, calling on us to love our neighbors just as we love ourselves. (Mark 12:33; Matt. 22:35-40)

Jesus teaches us that we should humbly perform Good Works and Holy Service. As Jesus' brother James puts it, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:26.)

Jesus calls us to seek to become more holy people, to seek to act in righteousness.

Jesus calls on us to deny ourselves, and to serve others first. We should live our lives in the joyful service of others.

Jesus calls us to achieve, to do, to act, to work, to seek out the truth, to be humble, to worship and praise our God, and to love others.

‎Jesus‬ calls us to put his teachings into practice in our lives, lest we build our houses of faith on the shifting sands of mere words and empty praise, rather than the solid rock of obedience. (Matt. 7:24-26)

Jesus calls on us to not be hypocrites. He pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees – the religious leaders of his day – for being obsessed with man-made doctrines and rituals, but neglecting, "the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness." (Matt. 23:23)

And how do we know that we can do this, that we can do all that Jesus asks of us? Because Jesus lived in perfect obedience, doing in all things that pleased God (his and our Father) and showed by this example that ALL OF US are able to do as he did.

We are left without excuse, therefore, and are called to humbly seek the spiritual completeness Jesus achieved, asking God's forgiveness when we fall short, repenting of these sins, and seeking strength to continue in obedience.

Let us humbly and with reverence serve God according to the example He has chosen for us – through the life and the teachings of Jesus. Let him alone be our example and guide in all things.