Sunday, August 18, 2019

What's Our Purpose In Life? To Do Great Things! #JesusFollowers


Why are we here on the earth? What is our purpose in this life? For millions, these questions haunt their existence and trouble their souls. But there is a Way we can follow that answers these questions. For those who call Jesus their Master, and seek to follow him and his path, the answers come easier.

WHAT should we do with our lives? Jesus tells us that we're here to love God and love others, and serve God and serve others.

Jesus said we should seek to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit those in prison, and comfort the widow and orphan. (Matt. 25)

HOW do we do this? We can begin by doing it by committing ourselves and then... by starting to do what God calls us to do through His chosen Son, Jesus. By Repenting - committing to that kind of change, and asking God for forgiveness for past misdeeds and lack of love we've shown - that starts this process.

This isn't a throw away line, and this LOVE - Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves - isn't the same weak "love" we use to tell others that we "love" chocolate, or salsa. It's a deep, complicated love, and it will take a lifetime to perfect.

A final question is CAN we do this? This level of service and love, for some, doesn't come easy. But we can be assured that we have the ability within us to do what is right and what is good because God says we can do it, and created us with the ability to do all that He asks of us.

We can find verification of God's expectations for humanity by looking to the Hebrew Scriptures.

God told Adam, the proverbial first man, that he could do what was right. He later told Adam's son, Cain, that he could do what was right, too, if he chose to do so.

Both Adam and Cain had the inborn freedom to choose. The fact that in these cases they both chose to do what was wrong with their choice means they, alone, were punished for it.

Perhaps that is why these stories were included in the Hebrew Bible, so we would know that we had a true choice.

In Deuteronomy, we learn that God assures human beings that His commandments are, "not too hard for you," and that God's moral law is "is in your mouth and in your heart, SO THAT YOU CAN DO IT." (Deut. 30:11, 14) Isaiah writes, "Wash yourselves, make yourself clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do well." (1:16)

Isaiah also has no doubt that human beings can, "cease to do evil, and learn to do good."

And many have read the verse in Joshua, in which he says, "choose this day whom you will serve," (Joshua 24:15) The choice remains with us to choose to serve God.

Jesus is completely consistent with the Hebrew Bible in his belief in our ability to do what God asks.

Our Teacher and Master said he did all things that pleased God (John 8:28). He also said we could do all that he did, telling us that we are to be "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (John 14:12, Matt. 5:48)

If we need courage and encouragement to serve others, we should start by reflecting on the gifts we've been given by God, our Creator, including the inspiring, perfect moral life of Jesus, and seek to follow that path perfectly, seeking God's forgiveness when we stumble.

Jesus taught that if we call him our Master, we must seek to follow him, doing all that he had done. (John 13:15; 1 John 2:4-6) Based on his teachings, we definitely have the ability to do great good, if we choose to take up his path and seek to do Righteousness, as he did. It's the choosing that can be hard sometimes, and we will stumble in our efforts, but that does not diminish our ability to do the good, which is God-given.

Just as Jesus frequently did, we may call upon God in prayer for further strength, and be assured that we may obtain it. As James, his brother, wrote, we can always seek greater wisdom from God. (James 1:5)

So, Jesus said we were able to do what was right. He believed that God gave us the ability to stand tall before Him, with willing hands to serve others and bring forth God's Kingdom here on earth.

It only remains for us to pick up the challenge Jesus lays down for us, and begin doing good in his name.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

#Jesus' Words - Was He Just Mocking Us? #JesusFollowers

The book of Matthew (chapters 5 through 7) records Jesus’ words in a well-known series of chapters known as the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus went up on a small hill and began preaching, and what he said amazed the assembled crowd who heard it.

It amazes us, still.

Jesus’ teachings were both shocking and clear to those who heard them; startling statements meant to both spiritually awaken and challenge us to action.

He started by teaching about the character that God wishes us to have. In these “beatitudes,” Jesus assures us that God sends blessings of comfort, hope, healing, love, and strength, and that God expects us to share these blessings with others.

Jesus calls us to become both salt and light – spiritually enriching the world by being great moral examples to it - and says that we can do this by humbly performing righteous deeds. Our attitudes towards oaths, marriage and even our dealings with our enemies, he says, ought to be guided by extremely high ideals, not by shallow obedience alone.

But just because this challenging sermon IS so challenging, some scholars and churchmen throughout history have questioned whether it REALLY should be taken seriously by us at all.

For example, some have claimed that Jesus' teachings in this Sermon were not meant to be followed, but instead, his intention was to merely show us what we COULD NEVER accomplish, because all human beings are too corrupted to obey his teachings.

When Jesus said we should avoid even thinking of committing adultery - an act that is one of God's Ten Commandments to Moses - they claim that we couldn't possibly avoid thinking of such a thing. Therefore, they assert, Jesus was teaching that human beings couldn't possibly do what he was asking.

But to believe this would make Jesus a mean-spirited, cynical teacher. And indeed, most who believe this way don't see him as much of a teacher at all, but as someone who’s just mocking (or "convicting") us by spouting high ideals that are beyond our ability to obey.

This kind of teacher would seem mean and sadistic in a classroom, and insane standing on a hill claiming to be a religious Teacher from God.

A teacher who would mock us by teaching what we cannot follow (and then teach that we'd be punished by God if we didn't!) would be the worst of all teachers, and certainly not a prophet sent from God.

Of course, Jesus, our God-anointed Master, never said his teachings were impossible to follow, so we can reject this interpretation. He said, "follow me," and "obey my teachings," and "let your light shine before others."

It's reasonable to take Jesus at his word, that he wants us to strive for even higher ideals than simply not cheating on one's spouse. He calls us to purify even our thoughts, not just our outward deeds.

This is consistent with his other teachings, in which he condemns the Judean religious teachers known as the Pharisees for having an outward appearance of goodness, like "a whitewashed tomb" he said, but inside, their minds were full of corruption and evil. This imagery clearly illustrates what he means by his teachings on the Mount, and elsewhere.

We start the process of committing a sin by thinking about it, and dwelling upon it. Jesus knew this, and warned us to guard our thoughts just as we are to guard our actions.

"Out of the good treasure of our hearts," put there by our thoughts, come goodness in the form of good works that serve others and please God.

We can be assured that Jesus meant what he taught at face value, and when he says that we can become morally and spiritually complete, and that we can do all the he did during his ministry, we can rest easy knowing that he is not lying to us or mocking us.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Truly Transformed by #Jesus! #JesusFollowers


The message Jesus taught during his ministry is an active and revolutionary call to action for the human race.

Jesus calls us to do good works, to become more holy people, to act in righteousness, and to serve others first.

Jesus calls us to achieve, to do, to act, to work, to become better people, to seek out the truth, to be humble, to worship and praise our God, and to love others.

Yet many who claim the name of Jesus do not believe we must do the "good works" that Jesus himself calls us to do.

Relying on the teachings of later men, many believe they can achieve righteousness by merely calling themselves righteous. But of course, Jesus called out the Pharisees for doing just that!

To deny that Jesus taught a Gospel of Good Works and active service is to deny his Gospel entirely. Doing good on behalf of others stands at the very core of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God that Jesus preached.

God chose Jesus to be our model and example, not as a cold, unapproachable idol to be worshiped from afar. Instead, God chose and sent Jesus out into the world to show us by word and deed how we should live Godly lives.

Many believe they have been transformed by Jesus, but if they remain inactive, resting on their "salvation" through their mere words and an emotional utterance of their lips, they were probably not transformed at all, and their faith is a self-delusion.

Let's be clear: Our lives cannot be transformed by merely admiring Jesus. His goodness cannot magically be transferred into us just by pretending it has been. To claim this makes a mockery of Jesus' call to actively FOLLOW him in serving God and others in God's name.

To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, comfort those in distress - these cannot be done by merely feeling smug about our "personal salvation." Saying "go forth and be warmed, be clothed" is to spit on Jesus' Gospel and laugh in the face of the God who sent him to preach it.

To be transformed by Jesus is to be called to action by him, and to heed that call. His example, his message, his Gospel, is what transforms our lives and the lives of those around us. We rely on the example of Jesus and the ongoing inspiration and assistance of God's Spirit to transform us and make our lives spiritually complete.

We are transformed by Jesus only when we go from inactive self-assurance to active service of others. 

We are transformed by Jesus when we actively love God and demonstrate that by actively serving and loving our neighbors just as we love ourselves, as God's anointed one taught us to do.

If we call ourselves by his name, we ought to walk as he himself walked, becoming in our daily lives the very model of his righteousness in all that we do. Let us allow our acts shine like a light in a world desperate for our example.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

What #Jesus Teaches Us About Driving A Car #JesusFollowers


Our Master, Jesus, lived nearly 2,000 years before the invention of the automobile, the laptop computer, the internet, and television.

Despite this, there is much Jesus can teach us today about how we should conduct our lives in the modern world - IF we have the courage and faith to listen and follow his teachings.

Driving a car in today's world can be a traumatic experience. Everyone is seemingly in a rush to get somewhere, and are solely focused on that goal alone.  Many drivers become overly aggressive in their quest to "be first" - to the next light or to their home or office. Perhaps that's how we feel, too, sometimes when we're on the road.

But Jesus teaches us a different way to conduct our lives than the rest of the world. If we take his teachings seriously, as if they were meant for us today (and we always should) then we will find ways in which his ancient an eternal words apply to us these many years after he first spoke.

Let's look one by one at some core teachings of Jesus that can be applied to our daily commute.

As Jesus summarized the Law as "Love your neighbor as yourself," (along with Love God with all our hearts, mind, strength and soul - Matt. 22:39) all of our lessons relating to driving can be summed up in this way, too.

When driving, the cars around you are our neighbors. They literally, if momentarily, reside around us and next to us. In every way possible, we should treat them as neighbors in need of our love - and as Jesus Followers, ones who are entitled to it.

"In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you." (Matt. 7:12) This well known, "Do unto others" teaching of Jesus applies to all aspects of our life. When we spend so many hours of our lives in our vehicles and on the road, surely we need to be considering how others would wish to be treated.

Would we wish to be cut off, yelled at, aggressively tailgated, or otherwise poorly treated? If not, why would we inflict such a thing on others?

We can also see this behavior in Jesus' teaching to "turn the other cheek." We are called to let rude behavior go, not return rudeness for rudeness.

In the same way, he says, "Deny yourself" (Matt. 16:24) When we are in a rush, but we see someone struggling to get into traffic, it is the more loving way to take a moment to let them in ahead of you than to block their way, just as the last dozen cars may have done.

And just as in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, when we see someone in the side of the road who's in need, and we can safely stop and help, we ought to take that opportunity to show kindness towards our neighbors on the road who are in need.

Jesus instructs his disciples to "be at peace with one another." (Mark 9:50) - We can also take the lesson that we should seek to make peace with one another on the road, especially when war seemingly is about to break out at any moment. "Blessed are the peacemakers" he says in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:9.) If, by allowing someone to barge ahead of us without gesturing, honking and yelling at them, we can make peace, shouldn't we take that opportunity to show God's love to others?

And what happens when we do all this - when we practice intentional, continual kindness on the road?

This kindness is noticed, and other drivers may be moved to analyze their own actions and conscience, and even consider passing along that kindness in their own commute.

Since we spend so much time in our vehicles on the road with others, we can see that this is a very real place to take up Jesus' call to spread the Kingdom of God here on the earth, letting kindness and love exist here, "as it is in Heaven." (Matt. 6:10.) 

What a great opportunity we have every day to demonstrate how God wishes us to live than to show others how his chosen Son and our moral example, Jesus, taught us to act - both on the road in throughout our daily lives.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The All-Important "Red Letters" of #Jesus' Words #JesusFollowers


In some publications of the Gospels, the words of Jesus are printed in Red ink, while the other words around them were printed in black ink.

It is a unique and clear acknowledgment that his teachings, his words, his commands, are special and unique, set apart from the other words. Which they certainly are.

It is right for us to focus more intensely and more fervently and prayerfully on Jesus' words than the words around them.

After all, we have one Master, and that is Jesus alone. No other man, and no others' words, carry as much weight and have as much value as his words do.

Jesus himself said that everything God, our Creator and Father, told him, he relayed to the disciples (Matt. 15.15.) And Jesus said that our Father was pleased with all that he did (John 8:29, Matt. 12:18, 17:5.)

Since Jesus was so in tune perfectly with our Creator, should we not listen more carefully to what he SAYS? Yes, we should.

In fact, Jesus says that his words will never pass away (Matt. 24:35.) If this is true, should we not listen and obey them?

Please, then, read the Red Letters. Put the into practice in your daily lives. Listen to what Jesus is saying to us.

He is calling upon us to obey his teachings and call others to do so (Matt. 28:20, John 14:15.) His teachings are the only "solid rock" we can build a true and genuine faith upon (Matt. 7:24-26.) His teachings are the final authority by which God will judge us (Matt. 16:27.)

His parables all teach us that we are called by God to perform Good Works.

His Sermon on the Mount teaches us guideposts for a radical Faith when we engage with others, even our enemies.

When Jesus reached out to those in need of Spiritual healing, he taught us to live lives of radical service towards others.

His interactions with the poor, the despised, the hopeless and the diseased teaches us that we must not shun others, but to actively have compassion for them.

He teaches us to live Godly, pure and holy lives, and not to do so to heap praise on ourselves, but to honor our Creator.

His calling out of the religious elites of his day teach us to be bold in our Righteous acts, and not give in to hypocrisy or to claim we are righteous because we use vain words or cling to traditions of churchmen.

His challenging calls to be merciful and live lives of moral perfection teach us that we must avoid a lazy, easy religion, but instead seek to be better, more holy, joyful, and Spiritually Complete (Luke 6:36, Matt. 5:48, John 15:11.)

Jesus calls himself a Prophet, chosen by God at his baptism to be God's spokesman (Mark 6:4, Luke 9:35.) Jesus was sent out into the world by God to teach a message of hope, love and service, and to be an example to us today by his actions and words (Mark 1:38, Luke 18:22.)

We are called to do all the he did, teaching others to obey his commands and bring God's Kingdom onto this earth by our acts of Righteousness, becoming more Godly each and every day.

Let us read the Red Letters, and write Jesus' teachings upon our hearts, so that we may be Lights among others, living as he, himself lived.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

#Jesus Wants Our INTENTIONAL Good Works, Not "Random Acts" #JesusFollowers

It's popular today to see admonitions for us to do "random acts of kindness." And in a world that is often unkind, that's certainly a step in the right direction. We know that kindness has a way of rippling out into the world, touching many people in a chain of goodness. And that, of course, should be applauded.

But as followers of Jesus, we have a higher calling than that. Not only should these acts be random, they should be INTENTIONALLY done, meaning, On Purpose, and all the time.

Jesus didn't say we ought to do good occasionally, or when we felt like it, but that we should do good as a way of spreading the Kingdom of God here on earth.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "When you do Good Works..." He did not say "if you choose to do Good Works," or "If God gives you the ability to do Good Works," or any other variant. He, as our Master ("lord") simply commands us to follow his teachings, as if he ACTUALLY expects us to follow his lead! (Imagine that!)

In short, if we have made him our Master, we are called to a life of joyful obedience.

Jesus' parables are filled with urgings and promptings to do Good.

The Good Samaritan comes to mind immediately. Of all who walked by the man who had been beaten and left for dead along a road - including "religious" people of Jesus' day who assured themselves of their Elect Status with God - only one acted in a merciful way that pleased God and helped the man in distress. "Go and do likewise" says Jesus.

In the Parable of The Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) Jesus illustrates that we are to put our talents to good use here in the world, and not wait for some distant future where all things will be made right.

Jesus tells a parable of a Rich Fool  (Luke 12:13-21) illustrating that "life does not consist in an abundance of possessions," and warns against those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God, and others. Elsewhere (Matt. 12:35) Jesus says we ought to lay up goodness in our hearts, from where goodness can flow out into the world.

In his teachings, Jesus said we should "do Good" even to our enemies. (Luke 6:35) And Jesus told the Religious Elites of the day that, contrary to their practice, even on the Sabbath Day, it was appropriate to "do Good" (Matt. 12:12.) Of Jesus, it was said that "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth, "and "he went around doing Good ... because God was with him" (Acts 10:38)

Finally, Jesus in a parable of sheep and goats (Matt. 25:31-46) spells out specific ways in which we ought to be acting, and warns that God will judge us not according to our intentions (or our creeds, or our endless songs of praise or prayers) but by our acts.

"Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

As Micah the Prophet said, "He has shown you, O man, what is Good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?"

Doing Good is not an option. Jesus, our Master, commands it. If we say we love him, we'll obey his teachings, and do Good, continually. (John 14-15)

"I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you," says Jesus (John 1315.) Let's go out into the world and do Good!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Called by God's Anointed One To Seek Moral Perfection #JesusFollowers


The following little message was posted on facebook by a popular Christian TV minister:
“God knows we're not perfect. We all have faults and weaknesses and make mistakes, but God loves us anyway.”
The concepts expressed here are not controversial among modern Christians. The fact that we aren't perfect is completely correct, of course, as is the fact that we have faults and make mistakes. The fact that God loves us despite these faults and mistakes is also completely true.

So, what’s wrong with this seemingly harmless statement of facts? What’s wrong is what’s been left out, and the conclusions that the reader of such a statement is likely to draw from it.


Today’s Christians are likely to easily, perhaps too easily, embrace the idea that imperfection, faults, weaknesses and mistakes are so natural to our Nature that we are bound, in all senses of that word, as moral slaves – to continue wallowing in them and never overcome them.


The old bumper sticker slogan that “Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven,” is typical of this sentiment. The idea that we are destined by fate (and by our “flesh”) to continue to sin, is baked into the Christian message so thoroughly that it seems entirely natural that this is the message Jesus brought to us: “we are all sinners, but not to worry, we’re forgiven.” 


Martin Luther wrote that we should give up all hope of not sinning: “Be a sinner, and let your sins be BOLD. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.:


Period. End of message. Right? Not quite.


In truth, the message that Jesus preached – for which he was chosen, adopted and anointed by God as His only Son, and sent by Him to preach to the world – was not to simply accept us for who we are, it was to challenge us to strive to become morally perfect HERE, just as God is perfect IN HEAVEN.


While it’s obviously true that we will always stumble, make mistakes and fall short of God’s full glory, we are to always strive towards that Goal – the Goal that Jesus sets for us and knows we can achieve, in a way we don't even suspect we are able to achieve. 

Striving for the Kingdom of God, by repenting of our sins, pursuing righteousness through good works in the name of God, and following the perfect path of Jesus, all the while seeking God’s forgiveness for our shortcomings – this is the path Jesus set out for us to follow. 


Not only must we seek God’s forgiveness, we are required as a condition of receiving that forgiveness the granting of others forgiveness when they offend us. 


God does not wish us to remain “just as we are” in terms of our actions, attitudes and shortcomings, He wishes us to achieve the fullness of what He, our Creator, knows we CAN be. Since the dawn of human history, God has known all about human beings, and of what we are capable. He knows we can obey Him, and that we have done so repeatedly in past generations, just as He knows we are free to disobey His commandments. 


God chose and sent Jesus, His Anointed Prophet, to proclaim this Good and Beneficial Message (Gospel) to us, and to be a perfect example in his teachings, life and death that we should know it can be done by a human being. By becoming Jesus Followers, we accept the challenge Jesus gives to us to take up our cross and follow him and pursue God’s righteousness.



Selected Scripture:
 


“You are to be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 


“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34 


“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Mark 6:14-15 


"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” Luke 4:18 


“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matt. 5:16 


“Yahweh dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me. For I have kept the ways of Yahweh, and have not wickedly departed from my God.” Psalms 18:20-21 


“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” 1 John 2:1 


“Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” 1 John 3:7