Sunday, January 20, 2019
Jesus lived long before the advent of social media, or even computers, but is there anything we can learn from him regarding how to deal with these wonders of our own era?
If Jesus is our teacher, guide, and Master, we can find useful guidance for all aspects of our lives in his teaching and example.
Social media can be, and is, a great benefit. We stay connected with family members, friends and co-workers, often years after they're no longer living near to us; we keep up with current events in our communities, our nation, and around the world, and we meet and interact with people from around the world whom we would never have met without social media.
But social media also has a well-known destructive side.
We can be addicted to staring at laptop and smartphone screens. We can become disconnected with the people who are ACTUALLY around us. And we can misuse this great gift in many new and harmful ways.
It's often easy to say hurtful things, safely hidden behind a screen, that we'd never say in person.
And perhaps one of the most damaging aspects of social media use is that it can portray others' lives as perfect, which leads us to feel bad about how our own lives measure up.
Jesus spoke of the hypocrites of his day among the Pharisees, saying that they were like whitewashed tombs - beautiful on the outside, yet
"You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean." (Matt. 23:27)
Jesus therefore calls us to not bear false witness, or put on a false facade to others.
And what of the content we consume on social media? It's been said of computer programming, "Garbage in, Garbage out." Many years before this saying, Jesus spoke of what we put into our hearts.
"The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." (Luke 6:45)
We are called by our Master to absorb good treasures, treasure that lasts an eternity, and ones that bear good fruit in the here and now.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matt. 6:19-21)
Our God-anointed Exemplar goes on to explain that what we SEE can put goodness or evil into our hearts:
"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your vision is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your vision is poor, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt. 6:22-23)
Jesus also calls us to serve and love our neighbors, just as we love ourselves. (Matt. 22:39) This requires that we remain connected to the living, breathing people around us - friends, co-workers, family, neighbors, and even strangers that we encounter.
We can remain connected and reach out to them through social media, surely, but we ought not substitute a Message or text for a comforting word and a helping hand. Jesus calls us to perform righteous acts, in humility (Matt 6:1) feeding, clothing, comforting, visiting and actively engaging them - in person. (Matt. 25:35-36)
Jesus assures us that his teachings will last forever, and said if we truly love him, we will follow him, and do what he commands us to do.
Let's take his eternal teachings 20 centuries ago to heart when we use the wonderful gifts of our 21st century lives for the creation of the Kingdom Jesus says lives within us, and must come to this earth through our acts in his name!
Sunday, January 13, 2019
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!
Sunday, January 6, 2019
We can be assured that in this new year, as in past years, we will face trials and troubles, conflict and even a bit of 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 live 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" (Isaiah 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, or in adoring the PERSON of Jesus, but in the life, message and death of this man whom God chose and sent out to us as our perfect 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 in Jesus' day, 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 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 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 in 2019 or in any future year, because we know that we can endure to the end.
Sunday, December 30, 2018
If a stranger walked up to you on the street and said, "I know a guy, a professional 'fixer,' who can get you a better job, make sure you get more money, attract a perfect mate, and even manipulate other people to make things, you know, go BETTER for you," you'd probably think he, like TV's Tony Soprano, was inviting you to join a criminal enterprise.
But shockingly, people - many, many people - believe this about GOD, the Creator of the universe! Many, in fact, believe He is in the same "business" as Tony Soprano - the business of manipulating the world to "fix" things for those He randomly selects to be in his "family."
Many people actually PREFER this view of God because it means we can throw the burden of "Good Works" onto God Himself, and selfishly (albeit PRIVATELY) complain when God doesn't work all things out for our personal, selfish benefit.
But that paints God as a sky-dwelling puppet-master - a magic genie who manipulates every detail of every human life.
This may be a very ancient view (ancient paganism) but it's a completely FALSE, childish, and warped view of God, our world, and of the faith God wishes for us.
How shameful it is for us to believe that God, our Creator, can manipulate people we dislike or who aren't on our "team" to lose their jobs, to have car accidents, to be injured, or to get diseases!
This Jesus, the one God selected to tell us about God and what God requires of us, tells us that we are to conform our lives to God's Will and to seek always His perfect purity, holiness and goodness by faithful obedience.
By doing this, we will be equipped to handle whatever happens to us during our daily journey.
Jesus never tells us we will never be persecuted, hated or despised for doing this. In fact, Jesus says: be READY for it. This is what we sign up for as Jesus Followers, not golden streets, great wealth and perfect health.
In reality, Jesus calls us to a healthy, adult relationship with our Father, and wishes us to treat all people as our brothers and sisters, loving them, and Him, with all that we have.
Jesus calls us to take action OURSELVES to build up God's Kingdom, through righteous acts and purified motives.
But doesn't God "move mountains?" Doesn't He work miracles, and grant us Grace to achieve what He asks of us?
Surely, God does indeed "move mountains" - by granting us ever growing faith by which we can COMPLETELY change our lives into something resembling the one His chosen Spokesman, Jesus, modeled for us during his life, and even in his death.
God changes lives in miraculous ways - when our eyes are finally open and we see the wonderful spiritual principles His servant Jesus laid out for us, which will help us achieve the kind of perfection God calls us to achieve.
And God never leaves us alone, sending us His Grace when we ask for strength through prayer. And we know that we have Jesus' example and words always with us as a guidepost, showing us how we are to live according to God's Will.
We must lay aside the ignorant and pagan beliefs we have inherited from the childhood of the human race.
God is not a sky-dwelling Genie who will grant our material wishes and make us rich or healthy; and when we instead seek a simple, profound and straight-forward faith in which we obey God through the example of His Anointed one, Jesus, we enter into a healthy, joyous and adult relationship with our Father.
Monday, December 24, 2018
Jesus saves us through his example.
He demonstrates for us the Way of perfect service.
He shows us the way God expects us to live and act.
He leads us to serve others in need of love and kindness.
He teaches by his example that we all may perfectly obey God, our Creator.
His life demonstrates the self-denial and sacrifice that leads to perfection.
Jesus, a man like us, was chosen by the One God, Yahweh, to be our Exemplar.
He is our model, our template, our perfect guide.
He shows the Good Works we must do for others.
He leads us to bring in God's Kingdom here on earth.
He teaches us to forgo revenge, hatred and violence.
His example shows how to live, love and even how to die.
Jesus is our teacher of Righteousness, sent from God.
He tells us to repent of past sins and reform our lives.
He shows us how to selflessly love God and others completely.
He leads us to seek forgiveness when we stumble.
He teaches us of God's perfect mercy.
He challenges us to do Works of Righteousness.
Jesus is God's best gift to humanity, who shows us the way to Salvation.
We are led to believe in his mission because of his example.
We are called to love God through his words.
We are saved from evil and sin by following him, alone, and no other.
We learn of God's plan for us only through his moral teachings.
We thank God Almighty for choosing, anointing, and adopting Jesus as his Son and our example.
His mission is confirmed by his example.
His example proves his teachings are realistic.
His teachings are true because of his message.
His message has meaning because he is a man, like us.
His humanity validates his mission.
Sunday, December 23, 2018
Is Modern Christmas really that far from the teachings of Jesus? In many ways, it certainly is.
It focuses on “getting” far more than giving, on money and acquiring expensive things rather than on God and accruing spiritual riches, and it can often put the focus on pride, and ourselves, rather than on giving to others.
In all these things, the Christmas that we keep today is indeed far from Jesus, and from the God Who chose him to be our example and guide in all things.
Then again, our Modern Church often also reflects these failings, being too inwardly focused, centered on obtaining money and materialism, and obsessed with “rock star” preachers with huge egos.
But do those who get so upset this time of year about how “secular” Christmas has become in our lives have a point? Or are they missing some of the wonderful redeeming values of the Season, even as most non-Christians celebrate it? Let’s take a look.
1. Modern Christmas has become a time for giving, with an emphasis on those in need.
Jesus in fact said we are to give to those in need.
Jesus does not say IF we give to the needy, he gives us instructions on how to act WHEN we give to the needy (Matt. 6:2-3.) While we are not to “trumpet” our good deeds JUST to be seen by others in a prideful way, we are clearly and specifically told to give to the poor (Matt. 10:21) and “give to the one who begs from you” (Matt. 5:42.)
2. Modern Christmas features people coming around the table for big meals – including friends, co-worker, long-lost relatives and even the “black sheep” of the family.
Jesus invited people to dinner; some who weren't on the guest list of the wealthy and powerful.
“When you give a feast,” he says, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:13.) He ate with outcasts, including hated tax-collectors and with sinners (Matt. 9:10-13.) He expanded his definition of “family” to all who did the will of God (Matt 12:50.) All of this outraged the religious elites of the day.
3. Modern Christmas has become a particular time for expressing love to people, and for reconciliation, even among enemies.
Jesus called people to love one another. Even our enemies. At all times.
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44.) We are called by Jesus to love our God with all our hearts, mind, strength and soul, and to extend this same love to our neighbors (Luke 10:27.) Before gift-giving, Jesus said we must reconcile with our siblings (Matt 5:23-24.)
4. Modern Christmas has become a time when people are focused on doing good to others.
Jesus calls us to do Good Works and serve others righteously and in humility.
Jesus says, “Do unto others that which you would have done unto you” (Matt 7:12.) Jesus wishes us to, "observe all that I have commanded you." (Matt. 28:20) and says we will do even greater works than he did (John 14:12) Jesus clearly says we must “Do Good” (Luke 6:35) and serve others.
“I was hungry and you gave me food,” says Jesus. “I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” (Matt 25:35.) In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we are called to, “Go, and do the same.” (Luke 10:37)
5. Modern Christmas has become a time when we celebrate light in winter.
Jesus calls us to always let our Good Works be a beacon of light, representing God’s Kingdom made “real” in the world.
We are to let our “Light shine, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” But we cannot keep our goodness hidden, but like a lamp on a table or a city on a hill, we must show God’s love to the world through our actions. (Matt. 5:14-16.)
Jesus tells us how to show this service to God – so that God’s Kingdom would come (Matt. 6:10) – and also how to serve others: to clothe the naked, care for the sick, house the homeless, feed the hungry (Matt. 25:35-41.)
Of course, the clear difference between the “secular” Christmas and the Message Jesus proclaims to us is that Jesus’ message is what we who follow him are called to follow year-round, not just during one season.
None other than that secular Christmas celebrant, Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, said the same. “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
That, too, is what Jesus asks of us. And as Tiny Tim might say, “May God bless us, everyone,” at this precious time of the year, and always.
Sunday, December 16, 2018
Do we become Righteous in the eyes of God by doing good, or can we become Righteous just by saying that we're Righteous? That later short-cut has been the teaching of most Christian pastors in recent years, and it's a very dangerous subversion of what Jesus and the Bible has always taught.
The teaching of modern Fundamentalist Christendom (of very recent origin) is that God can merely "pretend" that we've become Righteous, and will simply ignore our ongoing sinful acts, when we just accept His Son's sacrifice for our guilt.
Some even go on to say that Jesus' Righteousness is "imputed," or handed over, to us by God the moment we simply say that we accept Jesus as our Savior. All that's required for this transaction to take place is for us to mouth a "salvation prayer." That means we can keep sinning, but God will only "see" Jesus' goodness, "covering" our ongoing evil deeds.
As one preacher, Charles Stanley, put it once, "his righteousness becomes our righteousness the moment we, by faith, accept the work of his son of the cross and receive Jesus Christ as our savior, then we are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ." (“We Are Justified,” Oct. 21, 2017 InTouch Ministries.)
Joseph Prince, another popular TV preacher, says, "Christ took our sins and gave us His righteousness the moment we believe in Him. ("Righteousness is Not Right Doing, It's Right Being." josephprince.org)
Here's why this teaching is so wrong: Jesus, our Master, never said any of this. And Jesus is our God-appointed Master, not TV preachers, theologians or any other men.
Jesus never tells us we can ever pretend to be righteous on the basis of another’s deeds. Nor did he teach that God will pretend that we haven't been sinning (or let us continue to do evil deeds) if we simply say we accept Jesus' death as a substitute, on the basis of our faith, alone.
In Jesus' preaching, there is clearly no substitute for DOING righteousness. Righteousness is always stated by Jesus as something we must DO, just as it was in all the other books of the Hebrew Bible.
"To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice." (Proverbs 21:3)
"Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!" (Psalm 106:3)
"Thus says Yahweh: “Keep justice, and do righteousness." (Isaiah 56:1)
And if God were to see the righteousness of JESUS, and not our own UNrighteous behavior, he wouldn’t be accepting US, but Jesus' righteousness on our behalf. But if God is pretending that we are righteous, and we are actually not, how does He remain Just, if he knows we are doing evil and unrighteous deeds, while hiding under Jesus' Righteousness?
And further, if we accept Jesus' Righteousness as our own, without repenting, without changing our behavior, without performing the GOOD WORKS Jesus calls us to do, then are we not stealing his righteousness? How can any of our actions truly be OUR OWN? How can God see it as our own, if we did not earn it? And how can He hold us accountable for acts that are not our own?
The short answer is that we cannot be "clothed" in a borrowed, second-hand version of Righteousness. God through the Prophet Isaiah tells us (1:16) "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good." These are deliberate actions. They are acts we ourselves will be responsible for performing.
This isn't as easy as taking on another's Righteousness. But it's the challenge of the Gospel Jesus taught.
In fact, Jesus says we are judged not by our words, not by our intentions (and certainly not by another's) but by our own ACTS and DEEDS, and them alone. Period.
And the life that Jesus calls on us to pursue in his Gospel is a life of works, action, radical love and service to others.
No one can be our "substitute" for us before God. Our repentance, our obedience, and our good works are all required of us, according to Jesus' express and clear teachings. Jesus is our Guide, who calls us to act Righteously before God and on behalf of our fellow human beings.
There's no substitute for personal repentance and devoting oneself to serving others alone, rather than living selfishly and wickedly for oneself alone.
So, we must reject the modern preachers' teachings. In truth, our acts, our repentance, and our Good Works must only be our own.
Jesus says merely mouthing words, like, "Lord, Lord," or reciting man-made creeds cannot substitute for our actions, our deeds, which develop our righteous characters. We are, says Jesus, to lay up good treasure in our hearts and in the storehouse of heaven, and we do this by our own actions alone.
We cannot, says Jesus, demand eternal salvation from God and certainly cannot take Jesus' Righteousness from him and claim it for ourselves by vain words. The teaching of the Hebrew Prophets, along with Jesus, is that we will be judged by our own deeds, and by our deeds alone, and that we will be judged by God alone.
Jesus never taught that there is a substitute for God's judgment, nor for God's mercy on those who sincerely repent and ask for mercy. God doesn't say we get to judge our own actions as sufficient for eternal salvation, He tells us through his chosen Son, Jesus, that we must strive to make our actions more closely conform to the pattern Jesus sets for us.
In this way, Jesus calls us to a vigorous GOSPEL OF GOOD WORKS to actively build a Kingdom of God on earth, as it is in Heaven. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, to NOT selfishly seek to save ourselves, but to give up our selfishness on behalf of God's Kingdom.
And we are to begin this work of the Kingdom RIGHT NOW. We cannot wait until our deaths to begin it, nor is anyone coming in the clouds to do the work for us. This Kingdom was proclaimed as being "in the midst" of those Jesus spoke to during his ministry. He proclaimed it at the behest of his Father - his God and our God, Yahweh.
(And Jesus told his disciples ALL that the Father taught him. Nothing was hidden. Nothing remained to be taught by a future teacher, theologian, or preacher.)
And to be clear, No, we don't "save ourselves" by doing good works without God. We do the works by which God alone will save us, if it is His Will. Christendom has warped and ignored Jesus' words and plain teachings that make this clear. They have substituted man's doctrines of Substitution, imputed righteousness and works-free easy-Believism in its place.
All of these doctrines were created by theologians, preachers and other men. We can easily ignore these doctrines, since they do not come from our one Master, Jesus.
Nineteenth Century minister Noah Worcester said, "Moral character is formed by a succession of moral acts; and this each moral agent forms for himself. Hence, every man must give account of himself unto God, and be rewarded according to his own deeds."
He was far closer to the teachings of Jesus than the preachers are today. What went wrong?