Sunday, September 15, 2019

Are We Born Corrupt And "Evil"? #JesusFollowers

We are by nature, when we are born into the world (since we come from the hands of the Creator) innocent and pure, and free from all moral corruption. We are also destitute of all positive holiness; and, until we have, by the exercise of his faculties, actually formed a character either good or bad, an object of the divine complacency and favor.

The complacency and favor of the Creator are expressed in all the kind provisions that God made of things given for our improvement and happiness. We are by nature no more inclined or disposed to vice than to virtue, and are equally capable of either, in the ordinary use of our faculties, and with the common assistance afforded us. We derive from our ancestors a frail and mortal nature; and are made with appetites which fit us for the condition of being in which God has placed us.

We have passions implanted in us [at birth] which are of great importance in the conduct of life, but which are equally capable of impelling us into a wrong or a right course. We have natural affections, all of them originally good, but liable by a wrong direction to be the occasion of error and sin.

We have reason and conscience to direct the conduct of life, and enable us to choose aright, which reason may yet be neglected, or perverted, and conscience misguided. The whole of these together make up what constitutes our trial and probation. They make us accountable beings, able to make a right or wrong choice, being equally capable of either and as free to the one as to the other.

But what of "human depravity?" The question is not whether there is a great deal of wickedness in the world, but what is the source of that wickedness; not whether mankind are very corrupt, but how they become so; whether it is a character born with them, or acquired; whether it is what God made them, or what they have made themselves.

It is easy to bring together into one picture, and place in a strong light, with exaggerated features, all the bad passions in their uncontrolled and unqualified state, all the atrocious crimes that have been committed, all the bad dispositions that have been indulged; but the picture, though it contain nothing, but what is found in us, will be far, very far, from being a just picture of human nature.

Let all that is virtuous, and kind, and amiable, and good, be brought into the picture, and presented also in their full proportions, and the former will be found to constitute a far less part of it, than we were ready to imagine.

Innocence, and simplicity, and purity are the characteristics of early life. Truth is natural; falsehood is artificial. Veracity, kindness, good will flow from the natural feelings. Duplicity, and all the cold, and selfish, and calculating manners of society are the fruit of education, and interaction with the world. We have marks enough of a feeble, helpless nature, calling for assistance, support, kindness; but we see no proofs of depravity, of malignity, of inclination to evil in preference to good.

By our natural birth we only become human, accountable beings. We receive by natural birth only the human nature. We receive no moral character, but only the faculties and powers, in the exercise of which a moral character is to be formed. 

The formation of this character introduces us into a new state of being, and by whatever means, and at whatever time it takes place, we may be called "a new birth." And those who have thus acquired a moral character, and received the principles of a spiritual life, in addition to the natural human life, may be said to be born again.

We have certainly no cause to feel ourselves humbled under a sense of anything that we are by nature. We have occasion to be ashamed only of what we have become by practice. For the nature God has given us no sentiment but that of gratitude is due. Humility and self-condemnation should spring only from the consciousness of a course of life not answering to the powers, and faculties, and privileges of our nature.

Adapted from the writings of Dr. Henry Ware

Sunday, September 8, 2019

What Did #Jesus Mean By "Judge Not?" #JesusFollowers


"Judge not, lest you be judged." (Matt. 7:1)

People who know almost nothing about the teachings of Jesus seem to know that he said, "judge not."

It's is often used by those who are uncomfortable that others are pointing out their bad behavior, and many others view it as a warning to us not to judge anything or anyone. Consequently, it is used as a deflection to avoid criticism, or to attack concept of criticism itself.

But if we were to use no judgment at all to assess our actions or the actions of others, we would be at the mercy of everyone who expressed an opinion.

We would be unable to judge the worthiness of an action before we took it, making us susceptible to every uninformed whim of emotion that confronted us.

The world is filled with those who are selling ideas and products. If we took "judge not" at face value (and far out if its context) we would not be able to resist any sales pitch or any temptation that confronted us, because we would like the judgment to do so and feel that judging would be wrong in all cases.

And if we assumed “judge not” meant that we could not warn others who were about to make a serious mistake in their lives, or help correct someone who was factually wrong, then the world would be (even more) a place of moral chaos.

But the actual context of this saying of Jesus shows that he is addressing hypocrisy, not criticism. And he guides us to prepare ourselves to judge correctly the actions and choices we see around us.

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."

Jesus is warning us against pointing out other's flaws while ignoring one's own flaws. but by no means does he say that we should never warn people that they are about to make mistakes or urge them to live in a different manner. Nor is he making a statement about never using, or building up, our own good judgment.

Jesus himself called out the hypocrisy of the religious elites of his day, the Pharisees. He said they were living outwardly pure lives but inwardly impure ones. He judged the Pharisees.

He attacked the practices of the Temple system in Jerusalem, saying it was not serving God in a pure way by focusing so much on selling animals at a profit to use as Temple sacrifices. He judged the religious leaders.

He told many to stop sinning, repent, and turn to God. He urged him to live holy lives even if that meant great sacrifice. He judged them.

“Watch yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3)

Jesus calls on us to address our own imperfections so that we may be able to help others overcome theirs.

He wants us to live rightly so we can judge rightly. And he wishes us to prepare ourselves so we can help others.

"Do not judge according to appearance," says our Master. "But judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)

What Jesus was urging people to do was to develop a sense of good and sound judgement. That comes to us first by seeking to inwardly change our own lives so that we may then live as a light to the rest of the world. Only then can we show that we are living examples of the kind of life that Jesus modeled for us.

And Jesus has faith that we may do this.

He says, "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher." (Luke 6:40)

So, while we are never to judge harshly or as hypocrites (failing to do what we are calling on others to do) we are nonetheless called by Jesus to model this good behavior for others, telling them about the teachings of our Master, and calling on people to obey everything he taught. This is his Great Commission (Matt. 28:20)

Let's go do this!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Clear Gospel of #Jesus. #JesusFollowers


The clarity of Jesus' Gospel is obvious to all who read his words. The life, teachings and example of Jesus are a clear window onto the Will of God. We do not need to complicate it or make it mysterious in any way.

Jesus lived, taught and died as an example, so that we would follow it and achieve spiritual completion, just as he has done. That is the core of his Gospel - his Good and Beneficial Message to all the world, for which he was chosen, anointed by God and sent into the world to preach.

Jesus is the moral example by which we are able to follow in order to reach spiritual completeness. He perfectly models for us how to serve and to love others the way God wants us to love and serve others.

There is nothing greater than the teachings of Jesus. His words and teachings were not his, but they came from God (John 14:10) who Adopted him as his son at his baptism, anointing him with His Spirit, choosing him among all other sons of men to not only teach, but to BE his teachings – our exemplar in all things.

Jesus said his actions always pleased God (John 8:29) making him our perfect example in all things.

The wonderful message of the Gospel is this: That WE can do all that God asks of us, because another of our kind, Jesus, was able to fully follow God’s commandments and Will for our lives.

But to do as he has done, we must believe that Jesus left us an example that we can really follow.

Jesus teaches: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” And assures us, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 14:15; 13:15.)

Jesus is for us our Model, our Template, our Guide, our Teacher and our Master.

We are first saved from sin by knowledge of his teachings – that we must repent of our sins, turn our faces to God, and walk in righteousness. When we repent of our sins and pledge to walk in God’s righteous paths, we are forgiven by God, who is, “merciful and gracious, long-suffering – forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin." (Exodus 34:6-7)

The Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus tell us that God forgives our sins simply upon sincere repentance.

Jesus tells us God wishes us to repent of our sins – to be sorry that we committed them, and to cease committing the act of sinning. But without a change in our behavior following this, there is no repentance. Without repentance, we are not following Jesus or serving God.

The words, life, teachings and death of our Master, Jesus, challenge us to do, to act, to follow, to serve, to be better, to do more, to try harder, to be humble, yet Righteousness, to serve God not money, to lose ourselves and gain eternity.

Jesus clearly calls us to a life of Good Works, done in humility and compassion. Service to others leads us to Spiritual Completeness.

"By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk the same way in which he walked." (1 John 2:5-6.) 

Jesus challenges us to become Spiritually Complete by actively seeking and DOING Righteousness, relying on God’s holy Spirit to strengthen us and give us courage to do what is right, and true, and just.

Each of us can grow within us a Spiritual Abundance that gives light and hope to the world, and advances God’s Kingdom here and now, in this place.

Let us take up the challenge Jesus makes clear for us in his Gospel’s words and teachings!

Sunday, August 25, 2019

#Jesus Calls Us To Use Our God-Given Gifts #JesusFollowers


Throughout his teachings, #Jesus spoke to the great, powerful gifts given to human beings by God, and how we are to use them ACTIVELY to do Good for others.

Jesus, in his parables and sayings, explains that to us much has been given. Much, also, is required of us in return. By this way, we become the mature and perfect Beings that God wishes us to become.

His Parable of the Talents shows this most clearly. We are given gifts by God and are called to use them. Putting them in the ground, or keeping them unused, isn't profitable to the Kingdom of God, nor does it grow our spirits.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that we have both the ability and duty to act to serve and love others, even strangers.

Jesus says that we, as young children, are pure in spirit, able to love the way God wishes us to love as adults (Matt 19:14)

Jesus called us to bring forth good treasure from our hearts and turn it into Good Works in the world (Matt. 12:35.) God is the Author of our first measure of Goodness in our hearts. He calls on us to nurture and replenish it daily.

Jesus says that we may seek the spiritual completion (perfection) of God (Matt. 5:48), that we may forgive as God forgives, and that we may be as merciful as our Father in Heaven is merciful (Luke 6:36)

Knowing all this, we can't call Jesus our lord ("master") and ignore what he commands us to do. He has made it clear that God has equipped us to do Good Works, and calls us to go serve others to the best of our natural, God-given abilities.

Giving of ourselves is not a zero-sum game. Serving others, as Jesus calls us to do, doesn't empty us, it fills us, with joy. Helping others brings us closer to God and to emulating the example God gave us, Jesus, who he anointed and chose at his Baptism for that purpose. We are likewise chosen and sent out to act, daily building up God's spiritual Kingdom.

Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30.) That’s complete and total love that is demonstrated in our active Good Works, not just lip service or weak emotionalism that fades by Sunday afternoon when the churches are empty again.

Jesus and our Heavenly Father, God, have become for many mere SYMBOLS - psychological crutches on which we throw all our work and give THEM our moral tasks. Millions drive to churches to chant and praise Jesus' name and "finished work", all the while, averting their eyes as they pass the homeless, the sick, the discouraged, the grieving widow, the hungry, and the ill-clothed living among them. And we wonder why most people under 30 view traditional Christians as hypocrites!

"Do less" or "do nothing" are easy to sell to today's pew-dwellers, especially Americans. Jesus, by contrast, said we are capable of doing Great things, and called us to go do them. Jesus Followers who hear his words and obey them will seek to actively serve others, using their God-given gifts.

It is clear from the teachings of Jesus that we were created for a purpose: to do more - to do ALL WE CAN - to serve and love one another. This is the reason why we were saved by Jesus from the ignorance of our true Nature, in order to be the beings that God created us to be.

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 Jesus preached.

Our Nature isn't that of creatures so damaged that we cannot turn our face to God and repent of past misdeeds or weaknesses. Our Nature is of Beings who were created with Free Will, able to know and understand our true mission, outlined clearly in the words and demonstrated perfectly in the life of one of us: Jesus. He says this is the way of God. Why would we second guess him?

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.