Sunday, March 19, 2017

Should We Avoid "Negative" People? #JesusFollowers

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, March 12, 2017

The Gospel Is Not A "Mystery" And Never Has Been #JesusFollowers

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, March 5, 2017

#Jesus Taught God's Kingdom #JesusFollowers

The bad news is that our world can be unfair, unjust, and mean. The good news is that we're here to change it. And Jesus says WE CAN.

The Gospel that Jesus preached is a revolutionary call to action: a call to do Good, to serve others, and to love God.

Jesus calls us to a life of Good Works, of action, of radical love, and of service to others. He is our perfect example in all things, and calls us to do all that is in our power to perform Good Works, while we seek ever greater strength and wisdom from God to know and do what is right.

"Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen." says Jesus (John 3:21)

This is the Gospel centered on bringing in the Kingdom of God  on earth as it is in Heaven. All of the teachings and parables of Jesus point to this Kingdom. And his central message is a Gospel of the Kingdom and our role in furthering it.

This Gospel is true, and we know it is true because Jesus left us an example that we can really follow, and has shown by his example that all of us are able to obey God.

The example of Jesus is our perfect example of obedience. His teachings, sufferings and death all show how we should interact with others. He provides a perfect template for our behavior, our attitude towards service, and our way of dealing with suffering, persecution, and even death.

Jesus was faithful to God in all things, and he assures us that we can do all that he did.

God granted us strong spirits, and gave us the example of Jesus, and continues to give ongoing strength and wisdom to all who ask him for more.

The Proverbs tell us: "Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance." (Prov. 1:5)

Since we have been equipped in this way, we should seek out ways in which we can influence the world for Good with our actions, and bring in the Kingdom that Jesus calls us to build and to serve.

"For I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat, he says. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you took me in. I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me." (Matt. 25:35-36)

Serving others selflessly with our Good Works is the way in which we make the Kingdom of God visible on this earth. And we learn this is true from the words of Jesus himself, which do not ever pass away.

Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who builds his house on a rock. (Matt. 7:24)

So let's rededicate ourselves to seeking after righteousness as we find it in Jesus  in his teachings, his life, and his Gospel message.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Gospel Is Simple #JesusFollowers

The simplicity of the Christian doctrine concerning God and His Christ is a great theme of the Gospel.

Simplicity is in itself a beauty and excellence. It gives us clear ideas, and assists our comprehension of a subject. The simplicity of the Gospel corresponds and agrees with the works of nature; in which there is no vain show or useless magnificence; though there is united with it, through the whole creation, a wonderful sublimity and grandeur.

The simplicity of the Gospel combines the belief in the unity of God and contemplation of His supreme, unrivaled perfection with the belief in the humanity of Christ, his authority as the Divine’s prophet and universal Savior, and his awesome dignity as the judge of all men.

Concerning the person of Christ, is it not a clear and satisfactory conclusion, that his perfect humanity is as essential and fundamental an article of our faith, as that there is one God, the Father, announced under the Old Testament as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and then as Yahweh, of the Jews; and in the New Testament, as the God and Father of our Master, Jesus Christ?

The simplicity of the Gospel, in its doctrine concerning the humanity of Christ, helps the imagination to contemplate the man Christ Jesus living and dying like us, which is calculated to affect the senses, and move the heart. It is more adapted to our feelings and condition, it is more encouraging and consolatory than can be any idea of him being an abstract invisible object, a creature in his powers and dignity placed at an immeasurable height above us.

The simplicity of the Gospel, with respect to the rule of life it lays down, and the doctrine of another life, is suitable to its nature. It is designed to be the religion of the unlearned as well as the learned, to be preached to the poor and the wayfaring man.

The consideration that Jesus was a man, in a word, makes the whole history of his ministry clear and consistent: it gives energy and beauty to his example, as that of our elder brother, one in our nature, tempted as we are.

It shows the propriety and value of his reward; not as a recovery of glory that had been laid aside, nor as a reinstatement in former dignity, but as an acquisition of new honor and power: and its usefulness, as a model of the reward promised to us, if, as he overcame, we also overcome the temptations that try us.

The appropriate dignity and authority of Jesus Christ, in his relation to the human race, arises not from his having been the Creator of the world, and from having possessed super-angelic perfection and glory before all ages, but from his being the sent by God, the minister of divine mercy, and the Messiah.

Persevere in your efforts to serve the cause of pure Christianity. Let, however, your endeavors to promote the spread and reception of doctrinal truths, be always accompanied with, and be always subservient to, an ardent zeal in the cause of vital religion and pious virtue.

What is speculation without practice? What are the clearest notions in the head without virtue in the heart arid life? What is the knowledge of God, and of his Christ, without obedience? Let us be ourselves exemplary in the Christian temper and conduct.

Adapted from the writings of Rev. Joshua Toulmin, 1810

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Jesus’ Only Creed Was Love #JesusFollowers

The means by which Jesus relied to bring the world to the knowledge of his doctrine was the union and oneness of his disciples, and of all believers, for which he prayed, “Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, just as we are one.” (John 17:11)

Contrast this with the means by which our ministers are exerting to proselyte the world, are to frighten their hearers with the most awful apprehensions of everlasting torments in the invisible world; and thereby to induce them to raise funds to bear their expenses in frightening the rest of mankind! In these means, and in these alone, are they united!

Numerous creeds have been drawn up by councils, venerable, in the world's estimation, for their profound learning, deep study, and great piety. These wise productions have widely varied from each other, and generally contain the greatest contradictions in themselves.

So deep and profound have been their mysteries, that the learned doctors of the church have found it necessary to write volumes to explain them to the common people.

But the common people can no better understand these explanations, than they can the contradictions in the creeds themselves. We certainly owe it to ourselves to ask why these numerous, and conflicting, and contradictory creeds have been written. 

Was it to make divine truth plainer than it is as expressed in the words which the Father gave to the Son, and which the Son gave to his disciples? If the creeds which men have written, make the doctrine of the Savior no plainer, no easier to be understood, than do the words of Jesus, there seems to be no need of their having been written at all.

It is a fact which ought to be seriously regarded, that the example of writing creeds was never set by Jesus or his apostles. Yet no author ever expressed a single tenet more plainly than he expressed all which is necessary for us to believe.

Do we desire to know the disposition of our heavenly Father towards us; and our duty to each other? And do we desire to understand the real difference between what the wisdom of God teaches on these important points, and that which is taught by man's imperfect wisdom?

All this we have in the following words: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, so you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.”

“If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don't even the tax collectors do the same? If you only greet your friends, what more do you do than others? Don't even the tax collectors do the same? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:43-48.)

If Jesus had intended to express the universal love of God to mankind, how could he have expressed it more plainly and clearly than he did in these passages?

Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Hosea Ballou, given in Concord, NH, Sept. 20, 1832

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Jesus: A Leader and Example We Can Follow! #JesusFollowers

Jesus came as a messenger of peace. He came to bear witness to the truth. And the truth to which he came to bear witness, was the truth of the covenant which God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And you will perceive that Jesus has borne the same testimony to the world that God proclaimed to Abraham. He proves to us that God is love. 

And you will perceive that Jesus has borne the same testimony to the world that God proclaimed to Abraham. He proves to us, that God is love. “You have heard that it has been said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ (This is the old-fashioned doctrine, which Jesus came to condemn.) “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:43-45)

Now what is the sum of all this testimony? It is, that God loves all on whom the sun shines and the rain descends.

And remember, when you see the sunshine, and when joy and animation are around you, that as truly as the sun shines, God loves us.

And when you see the rain descend, and when with rapturous emotions you behold its refreshing influences, remember that as truly as the rain descends, God loves us. 

Until you can find partiality in the sunshine and rain, never allow yourselves to believe that there is partiality in the love of God.

The whole that Jesus spoke and performed in the world, his death, and his resurrection to life and immortality, was but to make known that which was true before. The Scriptures declare, that “life and immortality were brought to light through the Gospel.”

Mark the expression – “brought to light,” not created. All this was as true before the coming of Jesus, as it has been since. But “when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.” Fervently may we exclaim, “Glory to God in the highest; on earth peace, good will to men!”

Wherever he went, it is safe for us to go. “He went about doing good.”  Do you desire to know how to think and act as Jesus thought and acted? Look at his example, and follow in his steps. Do you meet with opposition and persecution in your religious devotions? Jesus met with the same - and he treated it with kindness and affection.

And how did he treat his enemies, even in the last moments of his life? He prayed for them! “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” Surely, this was the Son of God! Surely in him we have a leader whom we can safely follow. Let his spirit always be ours; and let the light of his example continually direct our steps - for the Lord gave him as “a leader to the people.”

If you refuse to walk in his footsteps, you will tread the thorny road of iniquity - but if you follow him as your leader, he will lead you to the pastures of his love. If you disobey his commandments, you will find wretchedness and woe - but if you obey him from the heart, you will discover that "the work of righteousness is peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever.”

Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Hosea Ballou, given Nov. 2, 1834

Sunday, January 29, 2017

What #JesusFollowers Believe

Many Christians throughout the ages have spoken aloud and put down in writing what they believe. And it is good to know what one believes, if you believe it strongly.

But many Christians today can no longer believe what was believed in darker ages, in creeds written by men influenced by their previous pagan philosophies and by men and teachings other than those of Jesus. This has led millions to abandon God and turn their backs on Jesus himself. That's a tragedy!

The emerging #JesusFollowers organization has been seeking for a while now to lay out an alternative path, one that follows the teachings of Jesus alone, influenced only by the moral teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures, which had certainly influenced him.

So, let’s take a moment to lay out some principles on which a new Church can be founded, and one in which Jesus is put ahead of all others.

Following Jesus, we love God and Serve Others, Working Righteousness.

We follow Jesus Alone – The words and teachings of Jesus, not any other teacher, savior or man, are the core of our beliefs.

Jesus is God's Chosen, Adopted, and Anointed Spokesman – God set Jesus apart from other men, Anointing and Adopting him as a special spokesman at his baptism.

Jesus teaches us to repent from sin, and follow God – Repentance (turning away) from actions that separate us from God was the core of Jesus' teachings and ministry.

Jesus is our perfect moral example in life and death – The life, teachings and death of Jesus inspire us to follow Jesus' example.

Jesus teaches us to selflessly love God and others completely – Love of God and love of Others is the core of Jesus' teaching on Love, and summarized the teachings of the Jewish prophets and Law.

Jesus challenges us to do Works of Righteousness – We are called upon by Jesus to do Righteous deeds, by which we will be judged by God, and which bring about God's Kingdom on earth. The Gospel challenges us to do better, be more than what we were, to seek Righteousness through Good Works.

And to seek God's forgiveness when we stumble – We will not immediately become perfect when we start (and continue) to follow Jesus' example and teachings. But when we forgive others who sin against us, we are forgiven by God for falling short of His goals.

God gave us Reason and the ability to obey Him – Reason is a God-given gift we use to discern His will, and we are fully able to follow Jesus' challenge to live our lives for God. We have no excuses.

God, Our Father, is One God – God (the God of Israel and of Jesus) is One God, not many – eternal and completely indivisible. God’s spirit comforts us but is not a separate Being to be worshiped.

God speaks through Jesus and the wisdom of Hebrew Scriptures – The Hebrew Bible and the words of Jesus, interpreted through Reason, faith and discernment, are our guide and comfort, and God speaks to us through these writings.

God gives us spiritual gifts: wisdom, love and moral strength – When we speak to God, God encourages us to obey Him and the one whom He sent, Jesus. God does not promise material wealth or perfect health, but gives freely His wisdom, love and moral and spiritual strength.

To build God's Kingdom here on Earth, as in Heaven – We are called to build up God's Kingdom here on earth, as it is in Heaven.

We yearn to live with God forever – When we persevere in our Faith, doing what we are called to do by God and His Servant, Jesus, and humbly rely on God's forgiveness when we falter, we may live with God eternally, but this is God’s decision to judge us, not for us to judge ourselves, nor for others should judge us.