Sunday, February 10, 2019
A passage in the Gospel of Luke gives many in Evangelical Christianity today the idea that Jesus teaches us that God wants us to be rich, and if we only give our money to 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 spokesman, 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 Psalmist 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, February 3, 2019
Should we avoid those who are not as positive or as moral as we are? What about those whose lives are "a mess?" Shouldn't we just avoid them?
There are many today who advocate doing just that. They argue that being around people who they believe are "negative" just brings US down. They're "downers" or even "toxic." And, they say, these kinds of people can bring US down, too, making us think negative thoughts.
And in a sense, this can be true. We've all had friends, colleagues and co-workers who are always "down," never happy, always complaining. Their negativity can seem to rub off on others, sometimes.
Perhaps, argue motivational speakers, personal coaches and other gurus, we should just associate with perpetually happy people - those who are always smiling, always positive, never acknowledging failures, sadness or defeat.
But if someone claims to follow Jesus, and claims him as their Master, then they ought to hear him out on this subject, too.
And, as usual, Jesus has a slightly different view than others do.
Jesus says, clearly: Reach out to, and hang out with, those who need your influence the most.
Of course how you take that answer depends on what you think Jesus' teachings represent, and who you think Jesus is. And whether Jesus' words carry any weight on this question with you.
If Jesus' words are ALL IMPORTANT, and if he is God's chosen, human example that WE are called to follow in all things (and one that we CAN follow) then his teachings are more important than anyone else's opinions.
Even at the start of his ministry, he started speaking clearly to answer our question:
"The Spirit of Yahweh is upon me, because He has chosen me to preach good news to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are being bruised." (Luke 4:8)
When asked why he was hanging out with sinners, prostitutes and even (gulp!) tax collectors, he didn't say "avoid them at all costs," but instead answered, "Those who are healthy don't need a physician, but those who are sick do." (Mark 2:17) If true, we need to actively seek out those who need help, not shun them.
Those whose spirits are sick are in need of us. Jesus calls us to cure those in need. We don't need to be doctors or mental health professionals to help others. We can cure the Spirits of the helpless, the hopeless, the homeless, and the heartbroken with our kind words and our gentle touch.
Jesus tells us that those who don't have their acts together most need the presence and influence of those who do. Those who exist in a dark world of quiet desperation need our light (Matt. 5:16)
In truth, those who are perpetually "down" need our companionship, love, and support most of all.
To encourage others and tell them that they are God's children is to BE the message they need to hear. To seek always to follow Jesus' example IS the light of Jesus they need to see.
And let's not assume that those who are always smiling aren't hurting, too, and that their smiles aren't hiding pain. Many people wear a mask, and that mask is shown in "negative" actions and words, or it may be a false facade.
Those "loners" some may speak of so contemptuously about are, by definition, lonely. They need our friendship and encouraging words.
And what about the immoral ones around us? While we definitely don't want to fall into their ditch, we are called to help them OUT of their ditches.
"Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a ditch?" (Luke 6:39) Those who see the light of Jesus aren't blinded by it. NO ONE ever was. We must not be morally blind.
And for all those who say WE cannot do what Jesus did, read the next line: "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher." (Luke 6:39-40) Let us live in, and be trained by, Jesus' words.
As another put it, those who claim to "live in Jesus" must seek always to walk as he did. (1 John 2:6)
Jesus never tells us to treat him as a fragile idol to be worshiped from afar, and never says we can never be like him. Instead, Jesus clearly says he is the example God chose for us to show that we CAN walk in a more Godly way each day! (Matt. 14:12; John 13:15)
Our message and example to others, when it's expressed in this way, can change lives and bring light and spiritual healing to those who are hurting!
So, let's get to know our brothers and sisters so well, and let them know us, that it leads them into the light, and onto the path of Righteousness in which Jesus calls us all to walk.
Sunday, January 27, 2019
The life of Jesus shows us that we can do all things that God asks us to do, because God's chosen one has done them as an example we can follow.
God, our eternal Creator, knows us better than we know ourselves. He creates our souls and wishes us to enjoy Him and love Him.
Our lives have meaning when we are following a pattern God sets for us. But He has not given us this pattern to mock us, nor has God given us impossible tasks so that every person would fail.
God gives us, from birth, gifts that are meant to be used for Good. Therefore, we must do all that is in our power to perform Good Works, relying on these natural gifts.
We also have the perfect moral example of Jesus whom God chose and out to us, to show by his teachings, life and death how we should live our lives.
God also grants us ongoing gifts of wisdom and strength - to supplement all we have been already given - so that we might better accomplish what His chosen one, Jesus, calls us to do.
When we fail to live up to the standards Jesus sets for us, we repent and seek God's inexhaustible mercy and forgiveness. But we must not make excuses for not seeking what Jesus commands, nor hold God responsible for HIS promises if we refuse to strive to fulfill our own.
But how do we KNOW that we can do what God has required of us?
Because Jesus, God's spokesman and our example, lived in perfect obedience, doing in all things that pleased God, his and our Father, and showed by this example that ALL are able to do as he did, and to obey God.
Jesus, therefore, has made God's Kingdom possible, through his life, teachings and even through the example of his death.
It's possible for us to understand and actively pursue Godly concepts like virtue, righteousness, honesty, self-sacrifice, and service.
It's possible to treat others with dignity, serving them and loving them as Jesus did.
It's possible for us to actively pursue Godliness, and seek the Righteousness that Jesus calls us to pursue.
It's possible for us to avoid sinful behaviors that separate us from God, our Creator.
And it's possible for us to gain eternal life and reunite with God, not through vain words or demanding it, but by trusting God to be the Judge, and letting us be His children.
In truth, Jesus assures us by his life and teachings that we can achieve all that God asks of us.
Let us go forth and do Good Works in humility and for the glory of God's Kingdom!
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.