The teachings of Jesus are clear, consistent and powerful. Jesus said his words would last forever - would not pass away. And his teachings about how we should act in this world were profound.
If we understand this, we will naturally put Jesus' clear, plain teachings at the center of our Faith, and they would obviously be placed at the core of any teachings about that Faith.
And yet, modern Christianity has been bogged down with man-made words and man-made doctrines that muddle Jesus' teachings and message, and often obscure it entirely, making them of no effect and little importance.
Many of man's clever words give birth to man-made doctrines that turn Jesus' religion toxic. Let’s begin to examine some hard truths modern Christians need to hear about what they’ve been taught that aren't consistent with the teachings of the one they claim to call "Master."
1) A Faith in Jesus actually means following his teachings.
Churches rarely focus on them – and in fact, sometimes rarely speak them from the pulpit or TV screen – but the teachings of Jesus aren't just the core of the Gospel, they ARE the Gospel. In his Great Commission, Jesus called those who followed him to go out into the world telling people to obey ALL that he taught them. (Matt. 28:20) When Jesus says "Take up your cross daily and follow me," (Matt. 16:24) he's calling us to join him on a journey of joyful obedience, love, and service, one just as he embarked upon.
But if we do not seek to follow his words, if we claim these words and teachings are too hard for us, impossible for "mere" humans, not necessary for our salvation, or not relevant for us today, then we are not really following Jesus, but other men's teachings. In fact, we HATE him if we reject, warp or minimize his teachings. It's clear from all of these sayings of Jesus, that he believed being called a follower of Jesus, or having faith in him, meant that we are to following his teachings.
2) Prayer doesn't put God to work granting our wishes, it puts us to work serving others.
Many Christians want God to be our magic genie, our butler and our doorman, and He cannot be any of these. And even as Jesus consistently preached that we should desire spiritual things and not earthly treasures (Matt. 6:19-20; Luke 12:33) many Christians pray to God for new cars, more money, a promotion and for an end to sickness and pain. That’s witchcraft, not faith in God. We should be seeking God’s help to overcome adversity, endure suffering, avoid temptation, and grow stronger from all that the world sends our way, and speak to God about all things and all of our troubles and concerns.
When King David prayed to God, he prayed seeking to be renewed and for his soul to be restored (Psalm 23:3) and acknowledged that it was God Who would lead him towards righteousness. This is just as it should be. Through the example of Jesus, the one God has anointed as His Spokesman, we know that God wishes us to seek Him in prayer for spiritual, not material, things. Let us pray with honor and respect to the One Who created us and has the ability to give us all the spiritual help we need from his vast spiritual storehouse.
3) If you're waiting for God to clothe, house and feed you, you're doing the Gospel backwards.
Are we fully prepared to face all of life's challenges? We can be. But we can't if we're paralyzed by the thought that we don't have the "right" opportunities before us. Some people are waiting for God to act, to "open a door," to make things "right" for us so we can finally be the people God wishes us to be. They wait, sometimes a lifetime, for God to "put the right person" into their lives, either a mate or a boss or a benefactor.
But we should stop waiting, and start acting. Because Jesus, the one He chose and sent to us as a teacher, tells us God does not show favoritism among people, and the scriptures teach us that He does not accept bribes to do our bidding for us (Deut. 10:17.) Jesus calls us to a life of Good Works, done in humility and compassion. (Matt. 5:16; 6:5)
Service to others leads to spiritual completeness. (Matt. 5:48) “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me" (Matt. 25:36.) We are called to serve others' needs. That's how God's Kingdom becomes established here on earth.
Let's be about our Father's business and do as Jesus calls us to do!
Sunday, March 17, 2019
Sunday, March 10, 2019
Jesus was a preacher of repentance and righteousness. He made known the love of God and declared the mercy of God to a guilty world; but at the same time, he insisted that without repentance there can be no salvation. (Luke 13:3-5.) God sent him to bless mankind; but it was by turning them from their iniquities. (Acts 3:26.)
He declared that a leading object of his mission was to call sinners to repentance. (Mark 2:17.) To deny the efficacy of repentance would be to render the mission of Jesus a nullity.
In his Sermon on the Mount he appears altogether in the character of a practical preacher.
He taught that to do the will of God, and seek to be like Him, is the only way to gain admittance into his kingdom, that the condition of forgiveness is our forgiving others, and that the man who hears his sayings and doeth them builds on a good foundation, that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees or we shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (See Matt. 5, 6 & 7.)
When he upbraided the cities in which most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not, he spoke of their impenitence as the sole cause of their destruction, Chap. 11:20-24.
He taught that men will be accepted or rejected according to the use they make of the talents entrusted to their care; that when brought to judgment, they will be received to glory, or doomed to punishment, according to their works (Chapter 25.) Throughout his ministry he taught men to expect salvation, and every blessing, on the ground of the love, mercy and favor of God, solely on the terms of repentance and obedience to the Gospel.
He accepted those as his nearest relatives who did the will of his heavenly Father. Mark 3:35. When a young man inquired of him what he must do to inherit eternal life, he directed him to keep the commandments of God. chap 10:19. He informed the lawyer who tempted him that if he kept the commandments he should live. (Luke 10:25-28.)
Jesus represented God as accepting penitent sinners, on the ground of his free mercy, just as a compassionate father would his offending child when he saw him turn from his folly. (Luke 15.)
He said to his disciples if you know these things happy are you if you do them: (John 13:17) which implies that happiness can be attained only by obedience. He taught them that they should continue accepted if they continued in his word, and that if they did not they should be rejected. (Chap. 15:1-8.)
The Gospel is undoubtedly a system of divine mercy and grace, but in this system conditions are certainly comprehended. The conditions are repentance, faith, and obedience. Without a compliance with these conditions sinners cannot be saved.
We have redemption in Jesus as we have it in his Gospel: he came and revealed it, he lost his life in making it known, he is appointed by the Father to dispense it, and we enjoy it so far as we conform to his teaching and example, so that we should not henceforth live to ourselves, in the gratification of our evil passions and desires, but to him, in obedience to his Gospel, and in the imitation of his example, especially of that generous love which he manifested in laying down his life for the good of men.
Jesus can be an example to us only so far as he was like us in nature, state and circumstances, or as we are capable of becoming like him. Had he never suffered, he could not have been an example to us in suffering: Had he not died he could not have been an example to us in dying. Had he not perfectly obeyed he could not have been an example of perfect obedience.
But now by his death, his character is perfected, his qualifications are completed, his testimony is finished, his obedience is tried and, found perfect, he received a glorious reward, and we have a suitable and perfect example of every excellency attainable by us.
(By Richard Wright in “The Anti-Satisfactionist, 1805)
Sunday, March 3, 2019
In the parable, a son asks for his inheritance early and goes away, only to squander it on lustful living. He exhausts his money and returns to his father's house, seeking a job as a servant. But the father, even before he reaches his gate, runs out to greet him, and immediately forgiving him, prepares a feast for him.
In this way, Jesus teaches us to endlessly and without hesitation forgive 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."
Our repentance for our sins - just as the boy who return to his father - satisfies any Justice God requires for transgressing his moral Law, because God is not a monster, but a loving Parent who wants us to live in peace with Him and with our fellow human beings.
Mercy is given by God to those who ask for forgiveness and accept it. That's the contract; that's the "price" to be paid, just as the price the Prodigal Son paid was returning to his father in humility.
The first and most solemn declaration of God to Moses (Exodus 34:6-7) is that of "God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering - forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin." David constantly prays for the pardon of sin, for God's "mercy's sake," (Psalms 44:26) and finds forgiveness for his sins upon repentance, living thereafter with "clean hands" before God (2 Samuel 22:21.) In the story of Jonah, that God is shown to be merciful to Nineveh if only they repented from their sins (Jonah 4:1.)
But the way that Forgiveness, Justice and Mercy are understood by many Christians would force us to radically re-tell the parable, because, like Jonah, some Christians are very angry that God so easily forgives.
Seeking inspiration not from Jesus' teachings, but from angry medieval lawyers and kings, they have created, and spread, a doctrine of God's Justice that is the enemy of God's Mercy. It is a doctrine in which God CANNOT simply forgive without a blood sacrifice - someone MUST pay the "price" for a sin.
But God's mercy is NOT the enemy of God's forgiveness. Both exist in equal measure in the heart of our loving God, Who is eager to forgive us upon our repentance alone.
In their telling of the story, it must be re-written, so that the Prodigal Son's vengeful father would stop the boy at his gates and then demand that his eldest son be slaughtered in order to satisfy the sins of the youngest who sinned against his father. Only then, when the elder son's blood was spilled, would the payment be accepted.
This may have been a perfectly reasonable way to achieve justice in the ancient world, but if we put our belief solely in Jesus' teachings, and not in other mens', we know that this is not how God shows Mercy OR Justice. While we may decide that some people do not deserve God's mercy, and must first "pay a price" for falling short of His high standards, God does not condemn based on our whims or theories about who is "in" and who is "out" of his loving embrace, either now or eternally.
"I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," God tells Moses. "And I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." (Exodus 33:19)
In the parable, even when the son "was yet a great way off," the father ran to meet him, and "fell upon his neck and kissed him" (Luke 15:20.) When Jesus calls us to forgive others as God has forgiven us, does that mean we have a duty to exact a blood payment from those whom WE wish to forgive? The opposite is true. We must forgive 70x7 times, joyfully and without hesitation.
God cannot be held to our human standards of how Justice and Mercy should work. And we should be extremely grateful for that.
Sunday, February 24, 2019
To the true follower of Jesus, whose heart is filled with the love for truth, no other subject can be as fit for imitation as the character of our Master.
In his conduct, we see all the divine precepts of moral duty modeled by his holy life, and he calls on us to join him in living them in our own lives.
"Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest unto your souls," he says (Matt. 11:29) And during his Sermon on the Mount, he says, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." (Matt. 5:5)
Here he echoes the Psalmist, who wrote, "The meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace."
From Jesus, the one God anointed and sent to teach us, we receive perfect examples of moral excellence that show for us the image of God in the human soul. And Jesus lived this life that he called us to emulate, rather than just hearing his teachings. (Matt. 7:24; John 14:21)
But what of Jesus' modern followers? Do they seek to represent the meekness of their Master?
Does a preacher calling on his flock to take over the government and rule in triumph over all others show meekness?
Does calling oneself a "child of the king" (meaning Jesus) and bragging that this means Christians are entitled to reign over the earth because of such a title speak of "meekness"?
Does it build up, or tear down, the Kingdom of God when preachers live in large mansions, have fleets of cars and jets, speak of meekness?
Does it serve God's Kingdom to suggest that the mere mention of Jesus' name "claims" wealth and power and earthly riches, which God is required to give, based on our demands?
Does it speak of meekness to claim that by a few vain words, we may demand that God grant us entrance to Heaven, and that by "electing" ourselves to salvation in this way, it may never be taken away by God?
Luckily, we have Jesus’ life as an example of true meekness to counter these false echoes of the life he led.
The one whom God called out and adopted at this baptism as His only Son had no place to lay his head.
Jesus said God’s Kingdom was spiritual, and "not of this earth," and that Caesar's government was Caesars, but we were to humbly do God’s will regardless of the consequences.
Jesus called his disciples to respond with kindness when attacked, to turn the other cheek, and to be humble, not flashy, when doing the Good Works we are called to do as a light to he world.
Jesus called us actually deny ourselves, and be willing to give up everything, including our homes, our fortunes, our self-centeredness, in order to serve our neighbors for the glory of the Kingdom of God.
His teachings, in fact, as so far from the example of today’s Christendom that it hardly seems like it's based on the same teacher, and of course, it really isn’t. The Church has as many human "fathers" but no room for the One True Father of all, nor for His Son, who actually modeled meekness for us in both word and deed.
Meekness is the result of self-denial, self-knowledge, and self-control. It results from reflecting on the example of Jesus, the only example that can save us eternally.
It keeps us from falling into the trap of self-indulgence and self-worship, focusing instead on the goal of attaining that Godliness that our example Jesus perfectly models for us.
So, let us keep the words of our Savior always in our minds, and by striving to possess the mind which was in Jesus our Master, in humble dependence on God's divine assistance, we shall not be disappointed in the end.
And may God grant that we may drink in so much of his spirit, that that mind which was in him may be also in us; so that, like him, we may be, "meek and lowly in heart."
(Adapted in part from a sermon by Rev. Anthony Forster)
Sunday, February 17, 2019
As the great fountain of beneficence, we see God with lavish hand pouring forth bounty and blessing upon His creatures and children, ruling the universe with the divine principle of service. As a loving Father, He seeks His children, ever ready to bless. We learn to love Him because He first loves us, as forever our best Friend.
By this principle Jesus rises to the throne of a true lordship, becomes leader and prince in the realm of religion, his church supreme and enduring amid the religions of the world. In darker days, worshiped as Deity, far away and above human experience, the example of Jesus was lost from sight, his mission deemed a sacrifice to pay the penalty of human guilt.
Later days begin to see him more truly as the Gospels portray him, loving Friend and Helper. Because by life and word he served humanity, he is lovingly enshrined in millions of hearts. Our practical world and time are fast coming to care little for dogmatic opinions and dead debates of his nature. That Jesus brings a power of blessing for today welcomes and enthrones him in high place as divine example and best spiritual leader.
Walking in his footsteps and cherishing his spirit, our lives become unselfish and helpful with a loving service that renders the humblest Christ-like and God-like.
All legitimate business is a mutual service, with both parties benefited. As commerce runs its lines around the globe, civilization is tending to bind into one brotherhood the whole human family, fulfilling the sentiment of the fine Swiss motto, "Each for all, and all for each."
Everywhere and forever genuine service is the supreme secret of true success. Whatever best serves human need will win the glad homage of the human heart, will go to the front, will conquer and command. This is true alike for persons and peoples, nations and churches.
June days of every year are sending forth from academies, seminaries, and colleges a great host of young men and women, graduated to start upon their life career. As they enter upon the busy arena of practical affairs, comes to each the sharp summons: Do some good work or get out of the way!
By this ruling life principle, each speedily becomes weighed and measured, tested and judged. Does one ask supremely for some soft place of easiest work and largest pay, to settle down in selfish indulgence, ignoble comfort and content? He is speedily ignored and forgotten.
Whomever asks supremely for the greatest opportunity, open field for best work for which their ability is adequate, nobly consecrates themselves, unselfishly does their best, doors speedily open to them. Higher opportunities seek them. People love and honor them. Living or dying, they go in, on, and up to heights of usefulness and renown.
The law of service applies equally to institutions. It is true of the Church.
Soon after the death of Jesus and his apostles, the pure, simple, practical gospel they preached became obscured by heathen traditions that still linger in popular theology. The flowing stream has gathered sediment.
We seek to filter it, and get the pure, living water, to restore and apply to life the original gospel preached by Jesus.
We seek to welcome and keep pace with advancing intelligence. It offers no mystical or miraculous plan of salvation, but by practical righteousness would turn the wilderness into a garden.
But the better day among us is dawning, the missionary spirit awakening, and pushing its way into every open door of opportunity for service. Primarily we come hither for worship, for inspiration and guidance, for friendly fellowship, for comfort in sorrow and good cheer in daily living.
The church’s larger purpose is not only for worship, but for work; not only to get good, but to do good. While old dogmas and forms are passing away, the ideal church of the future we hope here to realize.
The true church is not a concert or lecture hall of luxurious surroundings, with an audience of passive hearers to be entertained with sweet music and eloquent preaching.
It is a congregation, a coming together, a union of souls joining hearts and hands for good work. The true church is not an aristocratic club, composed of a few select, superior saints, but, as in Galilee, a company of the common people who heard Jesus gladly.
We here today start afresh to work for and realize the ideal coming church. Every blessing to our own souls we would send out as blessing to others in life's sore struggle. Personal consecration crowned by zealous purpose to bless the world would make ours the church of the helping hand. Only by practical service can we hope to win.
Without this, the Master does not need us, and the world has no place for us. The logic of events issues the edict, "Do some good work, or better close the doors and disband."
Only as practically we serve this community can our church live or hope to win success.
(Adapted from a 1910 sermon by Rev. Russ R. Shippen)
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.