Sunday, January 24, 2021

Moving Mountains and Doing Good Works #JesusFollowers


"For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible to you.” - Matthew 17:20

A faith that can move mountains is a faith that believes human beings are the creation of One God, and that this Creator gave us unlimited potential to do Good.

If this isn’t the message of your church, you’re in a false religion that is opposed to the teachings of Jesus.

In this verse, and others, Jesus wasn’t teaching magic tricks to the crowds following him around in ancient Judea. He was teaching something about faith, and hope, and our ability to do Good.

He taught an active, bold, and courageous faith that tells us that we are not only capable of ALL the great compassion, love, and goodness he was exemplifying, but that THIS WAS OUR CREATOR’S PLAN for us, all along.

We are fulfilled and perfected by personally doing the holy deeds that bring in God’s Kingdom here on Earth. Our actions, when we do Good, are the actions of Godliness and holiness.

We become Good only by doing Goodness. Human beings reflect the holiness of our Creator by doing the holiness He knows we are capable of doing.

Jesus says, “Love your enemies and do Good to them.” (Luke 6:35) “Do Good to those who hate you,” (Luke 6:27) “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your Good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)

While we are cautioned not to do Good deeds simply to be seen by others and receive praise from them (Matt. 6:1) this are nonetheless a teaching of Jesus we cannot ignore, or pretend we are unable to do.

He said, “Truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing and they will do even greater things.” (John 14:12)

Entering the Narrow Gate, as Jesus instructs us to do, means this path of doing Good (Doing Righteousness) isn’t the popular path. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” (Matt. 5:10) Because “Small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt. 6:14.)

Jesus commissions us, his followers, to do Good in the world. We are to deny ourselves and pick up our crosses EVERY DAY (Luke 9:23) doing the work among our neighbors that will spread Goodness and help the suffering throughout the earth.

We have this as a mission if we take up his call. And he made this call abundantly clear. We are to:

1) Love God and our neighbors with every fiber of our being (Mark 12:30-31)

2) Make disciples of all nations who will obey his teachings. (Matt. 28:19-20, John 7:26, John 8:31) and

3) Do acts of compassion for others: Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting and comfort the sick and those in prison. (Matt. 25:36)

That’s it, in a nutshell. Anything added to this, or made less than this, is an invention of men, and can easily be dismissed and ignored.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Christianity As Jesus Taught It #JesusFollowers

Jesus teaching

“Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." - John 6:38.

Who will show us any good? Where are we to look for the clearest, truest setting forth of his religion? 

There is such a variety of Churches, there are such differences of form and of creed, there is such a confusion of ecclesiastical tongues, and so many of them asserting that theirs is the only faith by which anyone can be saved.

And meanwhile, some think it doubtful if any faith can stand. Where shall we find some real light - some solid ground to rest upon?

Am I mistaken in saying that this is a craving widely felt at the present time?

The heart of society just now is in a curiously puzzled and perplexed condition. It is not satisfied. People have the answers of their various Churches. 

These tell them in creed and catechism, in article and confession, what it is that man must believe, and which shall be "saving faith” to him. 

And all the points are well backed up by “proof texts,” which sound clear and unmistakable; yet, when all is said, people are not satisfied.

It may not be that they have come to actually disbelieve these doctrines, but they do not feel that they go to the root of the matter.

Now I want to set before you what I believe to be the true way out of these doubts, the true way to this broader, simpler, more practical religion.

That way, I believe to be, to look simply to Christianity as Christ Jesus preached it; to go back, as near as we can, through the narratives of the Gospels, to Jesus as he went about among the people, himself preaching his own “good tidings" - his own religion. 

See what he himself said. how he answered people's questions; what he urged them to believe or to do, his beautiful, deep sayings. 

These an old saying: “The Bible, and the Bible only."  Well, I want to bring that idea to a brighter point still: “Jesus, and Jesus only, the special teacher for Christians.”

There is not a church throughout the world that does not claim Jesus as its teacher. The real difficulty occurs when we come to the practical application of it. 

Those four Gospel accounts of how he himself preached are sufficient in giving us Christianity as Jesus himself preached it.

A great deal of what passes for Christianity in the churches of the day will fail when tried by this test.

Always Jesus represents God as only wanting our repentance, waiting to forgive. There is never a word about the necessity of the penalty being paid; never a hint as to there being any hindrance to God's free mercy, except the hindrance of a hardness of heart.

I want to set before you the simple Gospel which Jesus Christ went about trying to persuade people to receive - the Gospel of love and practical righteousness.

Surely the very heart of it all, that which was the central light, was his sense of the infinite tenderness of God, and of the blessedness of living in His love, as His trustful and faithful children. 

Just let us recall the manner of our Savior's ministry, how he went about, what he taught the people:

Blessings on the pure in heart, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, exhortations to a higher righteousness than that of the Law as set forth by the Scribes and Pharisees; teachings about brotherly love – “leave your gift before the altar, and go and make up with your brother;" not doing anything “to be seen by others;" about the quiet charity that should not let the left hand know what the right hand does; about patience, and kindness - enforced by reminding them of God's kindness to all of us.

And the passage, "Not everyone that says to me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven, but he that does the will of my Father in Heaven."

That sermon was what one may call the great proclamation of his ministry. Then, follow him in thought as he moves among the people, telling them of the priceless value of having the kingdom of God in their hearts. 

And always he turns around from these thoughts of the Heavenly Father's love, to appeals for our loving duty! God's part was free, unpurchased love; our part He says is practical righteousness.

Never from his teachings could that false idea of righteousness be learned, which places opinions above conduct.

And it was not his teachings alone. These teachings were uttered in something nobler than word. The teaching was done into life.

And the Life was more powerful than the word, and so it is not merely “Christianity as Jesus preached it,” but “as Jesus lived it,” that stands for us in the Gospels.

The more I look upon that life of such sublime strength, holy love, and deep, living wisdom, the more I think of what Christianity was as Jesus preached it, and the more I feel how poor our faith in Him has become.

Place first a faith in those grand, simple teachings of God's love and our duty, and hold them up before the world with all the power of your speech and of your life.

(Adapted from an 1875 sermon by Rev. Brooke Herford 1830-1903)

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Justin Bieber’s Lyrics And Modern Christianity #JesusFollowers

Let’s talk music. Specifically, Justin Bieber.

The undeniably talented pop superstar is popular, rich, and influential with his millions of fans.

He’s also lonely, according to a new song of his, titled simply, “Lonely.”

But before dealing with that, let’s get some background. In 2014, Justin was a mess: Heavy drinking, a scandal about some racist words he used as a youth, and an overall “bad boy” image from doing stupid things.

Enter Christianity. Specifically, the Australia-based Pentecostal mega-church Hillsong.

The church has branches throughout the world, including the US, and is known for its pastors in skinny jeans and “laid back” attitude, as well as its prosperity Gospel, which says Christians can get rich, and doing so is a sign of God’s approval.

In 2014, Bieber was baptized by Carl Lentz, pastor of Hillsong’s New York City branch, in an NBA basketball player’s bathtub (it was reportedly very large!)

How’s his new faith working out?

On the surface, he got his act together. He married another Hillsong member, Hailey Baldwin, in 2018, and, now 26, has stayed out of the headlines for the shenanigans he was known for as a youth. But his music has not made the same spiritual journey.

In 2015 (pre-baptism) he had released “No Sense,” in which he opines, “It don’t make no sense unless I’m doing it with you.”

Nothing’s changed. His early 2020 hit, “Yummy” was reportedly a song about his wife’s private parts. Nuff said there.

His catchy December, 2020 hit, “Holy,” is anything but. He sings, “I hear a lot about sinners. Don’t think that I’ll be a saint.” And, “The way you hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me, feels so holy, holy, holy, holy.”

In October, he had released the aforementioned “Lonely.” Many lyrics are clearly thoughtful, noting that he hopes “when I’m older, it’ll all calm down.” And he ruminates on how hard it is being a celebrity, as many other singers have done before.

But it’s hard to believe some lines were written and sung by a Christian.

“What if you had it all, but nobody to call?”  “But no one’s listening, and that’s just F****ing lonely.” “And everyone saw me sick, and it felt like no one gave a s**t.” His plaintive wail, “I’m  so lo-oooonely” is haunting, and very sad.

Nobody to call, no one listening? One wonders where his pastor was.

Lentz, his mentor/pastor, disappeared from Justin’ life. He was fired from Hillsong in November, partly due to infidelity accusations, and because he seemed obsessed with celebrities and designer clothing more than he was helping those church members in need of spiritual help, like Justin.

On Jan. 4, 2021, Justin took to Instagram to “debunk” rumors. He denied being a member of Hillsong (now) and claimed to be a member of Churchome, led by Pastor Judah Smith, who had introduced him to Lentz and had officiated his wedding.

He also said, “Church is not a place. We are the church. We don’t need a building to connect with God, God is with us wherever we are.” And in that, he’s correct.

Back to Lentz, he let Justin down. But not just him. His church let him down. And even deeper, so did Christian theology.

That’s because the root cause of moral rot in today’s Church is its theology. Pastors today blindly repeat: “You can’t EARN your salvation, it’s a FREE GIFT,” (“Instant Salvation”) and “Good works are FILTHY rags to God,” (“Unholy Religion”) and “we’re born sinners, we can’t help it.” (“Original Sin/Inherited Guilt Nature”)

Where does this false theology lead church members? They conclude that religion is cheap, and nothing matters.

This rotten theology creates a lazy faith that doesn’t lead to doing good and being Good. Both are seen as unnecessary, and in some churches, impossible, for human beings.

So, we see a baptized rock star carelessly using religious concepts as fodder for his sex-focused lyrics, then mocking the idea of “Being a saint.” Why? Because his false teachers themselves mock “morality” as irrelevant to salvation, and to God.

Knowing this background, can we blame Justin Bieber for moral laxness? No. We dare not throw stones at HIM. The blame lies with modern Christianity: a belief system that failed to give him the moral clarity to improve how he was influencing his millions of fans – and fails many millions of churchgoers.

Jesus’ teachings bring that moral clarity. And a “Christian” belief system based on ANYTHING OTHER than his teachings is a false religion.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

God Gives Us Freedom To Choose! #JesusFollowers


God, our Creator, has created all of us with the awesome responsibility of the Freedom to Choose. The abilities and knowledge we inherit from God at our birth allow us to choose the Good, but has also left us with the ability to choose what is evil. It is in recognizing what is evil, and avoiding or repenting of it, then actively choosing the Good that we are considered Righteous by God.

In the Hebrew Bible, and as taught by Jesus, God repeatedly tells us to "choose" and "obey" and that we will be judged according to our choices.

God, through Moses, said that His Law was “not too hard” so that we “could do it.” (Deut. 30:14) And God expected us to obey his moral commands, as Jesus repeated consistently. Jesus said that no one else would be charged with our disobedience, and no other would be responsible for our actions except ourselves.

In the very beginning of the Hebrew Bible, we learn in the story of Adam and Eve how human beings were entrusted with a Freedom of Choice. 

The story portrays God as giving Adam and Eve the choice of not eating from a free of knowledge and remaining in a Garden of innocence forever, or eating from it and eventually dying, and leaving to make his own way in the world.

They chose to leave, and were told by God to "Be fruitful and multiply." Otherwise, his choice, and that of  Eve, affected no one but them. And note that Adam and Eve - created in God's image (Gen. 1:27) - were created to be perfect by God, they lived in a perfect world, yet were able to disobey God.

Sin cannot be inherited. Here's how we know: God told Adam's son, Cain (just one generation after Adam!) that he COULD avoid sin, and MUST do so to avoid punishment (Gen. 4:7.)

God didn’t respect Cain and his offering, "So Cain was very angry, and the expression on his face fell. And Yahweh said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires you, but you must rule over it." (Gen. 4:5b-8)

If he was able to freely choose to do Good, so may we! Only Cain was affected by his subsequent evil choice. The Bible teaches us that sins are acts, not THINGS. Sins are what we commit or avoid, not a thing we can inherit biologically.

This is why Ezekiel records: "The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself." (Ezek. 18:19)

Just after the Exodus out of Egypt, Joshua told the Israelites to serve Yahweh their God, "in sincerity and in truth," and to "choose this day whom you will serve," (Joshua 24:14-15) Clearly, Joshua believed they could choose to faithfully serve God in sincerity and in truth.

The prophet Isaiah also clearly agreed with God that human beings were capable of choosing to, "reject the wrong and choose the right." (7:15)

Psalm 24 notes who may stand before God: "The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god." 

This strongly affirms our ability to obey God and seek to be righteous. If we cannot do these things, then literally no one would ever stand in God's presence. But that's not what the Bible teaches.

Psalm 25-27 are even more personal, with King David saying that he has (following repentance) led a clean life by choosing the righteous path. He had earlier written: "Yahweh dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me." (Psalm 18:20)

Jesus had high hopes for our moral abilities, and taught that we are to be, "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48) This same teacher - this human being chosen by God - said that he did all things that pleased God (John 8:29.)

He also said that we must follow him, doing ALL that he had done. (John 13:15; 14:12) Based on these teachings, we definitely have the ability to do great good, if we choose to do so. It's the choosing that can be hard sometimes, but that does not diminish our ability to do the good, which is God-given.

We have the God-given ability to seek Godliness and that we can become Godly and complete – not by ourselves without God or without God’s chosen example, but with God's ongoing help and with the example of Jesus always before us.

As we have seen here, it is NOT our inherited destiny to be "unable to not sin," and that we are not born so depraved that we may not choose what is good and do it. The scriptures teach that we may indeed choose NOT to sin.

Ecclesiasticus records the clearest statement of our freedom to choose, saying: "If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given. For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything; his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every human action. He has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and he has not given anyone permission to sin." (15:15-20)

It is God’s choice – His GRACE alone – whether we shall live with Him eternally. But it is up to us if WE CHOOSE to seek this gift, and God says we demonstrate this choice by our actions. This isn't true only if we are unable to freely choose what is good.

We are called to commit our lives to obedience to God's chosen Son, Jesus, the Anointed Prophet of God, and submit to humbly walk with him, relying, as he taught, on God's grace and forgiveness and growing into the Righteous Perfection that God knows we are capable of achieving.

And while sin may be waiting by the door for us, seeking to master us, we are assured that we may indeed defeat – and master – sinful temptations. This is amazingly good news, because it shows that our Creator knows us, and still trusts us with the ability to act and choose to obey Him freely!

Through the teachings of Jesus, God shows us that He is a parent Who allows His children to make mistakes, repent, and turn back to doing what is right.

We should thank God, our Creator in Whose image we were created, for trusting us to make our own choices, and let’s pledge to always take that awesome responsibility seriously in all that we do.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

#Jesus Is Our Perfect Example! #JesusFollowers

The life, teachings and death of Jesus inspire us to follow Jesus' example.

Jesus had the fullness of his Father’s spirit; and we have also a portion of the same. This puts all the children of men on equal ground, and makes Jesus our Pattern.

His example becomes the point after which we are to aspire; for his righteousness must be the criterion of judgment; because arrived at perfect obedience, doing in all things that for which he was sent by his Father, Jesus has shown by his example that all are able to obey God.

Jesus was a perfect example to us, to show to us that for the testimony of God our creator, we must be willing, as Jesus was, to surrender up everything unto God; and to do his will in everything, even if it cost us our natural lives. For if we are brought into the situation that he was in, that we cannot save our natural lives without giving up the testimony that God has called us to bear, we have his example not to do it, though we may feel as he did, that it is a great trial.

We have it now on record. We need only take up the precepts of Jesus, only look at his example, and his direction to his disciples, and see if we can find anything, any testimony worthy to be compared with it.

What is true religion? It consists entirely in righteousness, that righteousness which is acceptable in the sight of God. It unites us with God, as it did his blessed Son, and brings us to partake of his holy nature, and we become one with him – as the disciples formerly were declared to be partakers of the divine nature.

Until we do everything in our power, by every means put in our hands, we shall not find support from God! There are no sins so great, in this probationary, earthly state, our Father would not stand ready to forgive, if we turn to Him with full purpose of heart and acknowledge our transgressions.

He gives us the grace of repentance, and enables us so to walk as to be reconciled to Him, and gain a greater establishment in Himself, and in the truth, than when we first came out of His creating hands.

(Adapted from an 1826 sermon by Elias Hicks)

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Let Us "Welcome" The Adult #Jesus, Too! #JesusFollowers

 

Later this week, on Christmas Day, we will "welcome" Jesus into the world along with Christendom. This is a Jesus we already know, a man fully grown and with whom we are more than acquainted.

This isn't a baby we must perpetually welcome into our homes. We are confronted instead with the adult Jesus.

Meeting the adult Jesus is difficult for many, and even frightens them to meet him as an adult and not a helpless, unassuming child. The adult Jesus scared the religious elites of his day because of what he asked, just as he scares the religious elites of today.

Jesus is an adult whom we must each decide whether to ignore, or to serve, as God intended us to do.

If we claim his name, and wish to be identified with it, we must not assume that admiring a baby in a manger is what God wishes. We must not delude ourselves that admiration - or even worship - is alone sufficient. We cannot ignore the adult Jesus, or prefer the baby instead of the adult.

The adult Jesus is hidden away by the religious elites. He scares them. 

A fully human Jesus, fully grown, with a clearly understood, fully formed mission and a challenging religion of Good Works, scares them EVEN MORE!

So this adult Jesus isn't celebrated at Christmas. At all. And he rarely, if ever, makes an appearance the rest of the year, either.

So, just who is this Jesus?

Jesus, the adult, was of course born a baby, but he was born fully a man, of human parents, just as we were born. (He was recognized as such in the Gospels by his neighbors, by the Disciples, and by his parents.) 

He grew in the knowledge of God and gained wisdom; he pleased God in all he did. When he became an adult, he was chosen and anointed by God to be our Master, our Teacher, our Template and the Example of how a human being should live for the glory of God and most beneficially for our fellow human beings.

This Jesus is not the one created for us by Priests whom we must simply admire and worship from afar; unable to obey, unable to follow because he is so different, so distant, so alien.

We may instead celebrate the Jesus - a man called and chosen by God - whom we can fully love as our elder brother, and the one whom we can actively follow as our example in all things. We may become more like God because one of us has done it already, setting the example towards which we may strive.

Let us remember the birth, but also the adult life, of THIS Jesus, a Jesus worth celebrating on Christmas Day, and every day.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

5 Ways Modern Christmas Is Not Far from Jesus. #JesusFollowers

 

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.