Sunday, May 19, 2019

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, or from having possessed super-angelic perfection and glory before all ages, but from his being chosen and sent by God to be 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, May 12, 2019

How Can We Know What Is Good? #JesusFollowers


On the first day of his class, a college professor announced they would be tested that very day. The subject of the test would be all the material they were going to learn.

Not only would the test cover material from the upcoming semester, said the professor, but these freshmen students would be tested on senior-level material - four years of information, none which they had been taught.

Now, clearly, such a test would be unfair, and the results of such a test would be predictable - most students would be unable to answer most of the question. Why should a student without knowledge of a subject be able to know it enough to pass such an advanced test?
One might also ask why babies are not able to read or write, or why no eight-year-olds are experts in constitutional law.

The answer to all of these, as well, is that they lack the knowledge and experience to do so.

And yet, people have no problem asking why there is so much evil and even simple badness in the world. The answer, of course, is the same as in the previous examples: People act badly in many cases because they are simply unaware of what is Good. (And yes, there are many who do know, and choose to do evil.)

The question of Good and Evil is often a religious one. And that is appropriate. God, our creator, has standards of behavior that, if we adhere to them, will make us far better and even more spiritually perfect beings.

If one follows Jesus, and believes that God chose this man to be the example of how all of us should be living, then knowledge of what he taught and preached is essential to knowing what is Good.

When we believe that this Chosen One of God is the very best example of the Good that God wishes us to pursue, we have been saved from the ignorance of what is Good. That is the first step towards the Goodness God wishes for us, bt it is not the final step.

Our spiritual journey is a lifelong one. Jesus calls us to follow him, not to merely recognize him as our morally perfect example, and certainly not to simply admire his perfection.

Knowledge of the teachings of Jesus is the first step in our journey toward spiritual perfection. Committing to following those teachings is what brings us closer to the goal he sets for us.

That we cannot instantly achieve spiritual maturity does not say anything about human nature. As in the examples above, it's unreasonable to demand that we will learn any skill or even any Behavior instantly.

That is not a flaw. It is built into our Nature. The brother of Jesus, James, wrote that when we are tested with trials, we become stronger. This is because we learn from them, and they teach us.

So too, with the lessons Jesus teaches us. As a follower of Jesus, we learn not only from trials, but from the perfect example of the one God chose for us.

Having such a perfect example always before us is an amazing and beautiful gift from our creator. That we have this example, and that Jesus himself said we may do as he did, means that our nature is perfectible, and that we may indeed do good in a way that pleases God.

These teachings, therefore, should be our guidepost, our template, our goal in life.

To love God with all that we have and all that we are, and to love our neighbor exactly as we love ourselves, are the epitome of what it means to be a human being. This we learn from the teachings of Jesus, the one whom God anointed to be our Master.

To seek after this spiritual completeness, this maturity, this perfection, is therefore our goal in life.

That we know what is Good and what is evil means that we have an obligation to seek the Good and avoid the evil and, by our actions alone, not by our condemnation, to demonstrate this and share it with the world.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

God Forgives Us #JesusFollowers


God's infinite forgiveness is revealed in the life and teachings of Jesus, whom we are called to emulate.

God's love is truly infinite. It has always existed.

God’s prophet Isaiah, says: "Let the wicked man abandon his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to YAHWEH, so he may have mercy on him, to our God, for He will freely forgive." (55:7)

God, is said to be, “merciful and gracious, long-suffering – forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin." (Exodus 34:6-7)

King David constantly prayed for the pardon of sin, for God's "mercy's sake," (Psalms 44:26) and found forgiveness for his sins when he repented, living thereafter with "clean hands" before God (2 Samuel 22:21.)

In the story of Jonah, that God is portrayed as being forgiving and merciful to Nineveh when they repented from their sins (Jonah 4:1.)

The forgiveness of God is powerful and strong because the challenge God gives us through his chosen son, Jesus is also powerful and strong.

We are called by Jesus to perform acts of Righteousness, to treat others like we would wish to be treated, to "go the extra mile" and not return evil for evil.

We must seek always to love God completely and obey God's commandments, we must not be hypocrites in doing so, we must not pray just to be seen by others, and should not seek after earthly riches, but instead seek after Heavenly riches.

That is the Good News Jesus preached. Nothing more, nothing less. It is at the core of his teachings.

"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:5-12)

When the Scribes told Jesus that only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7) Jesus corrected them, and by example, taught that all of us should forgive others’ sins and trespasses.

In the parable of the Unforgiving Servant, the King (God) calls out the wicked servant, saying, “I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Matt. 18:32-33.)

Jesus calls us to be merciful to others, just as God is merciful (Luke 6:36)

When Peter asks how many times we must forgive others, Jesus replies, “Seventy times seven” times (Matt. 18-21-22.) In other words, continually and without end.

These are commands and duties we are called to perform in our lives. When we falter, and fail to live up to these Godly deals, we seek forgiveness from God, and always obtain it.

When others around us stumble and hurt us, and fail to live up to God's high standards, we must forgive them, as a condition of our being forgiven by God when WE fall short of the duties we've taken on by agreeing to follow his anointed one, Jesus. (Mark 11:25, Matt. 6:14-15)

By demonstrating, by his own example, the forgiveness God requires, and by exhibiting in his own conduct the spirit of benevolence, meekness, and self-denial, Jesus calls on us to learn from him, to take up the cross and follow his steps.

If Jesus can, in his dying breath, forgive those who murdered him (Luke 23:34) we can forgive those who offend us with their gossip. 

Our God, revealed to us by Jesus, is a God of high expectations, and believes that we are able to meet and exceed them (John 14:12.) Let us forgive others in the same spirit of forgiveness offered to us by our Eternal Father.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Has Christianity Become Everyone's On-Demand Religion? #JesusFollowers


Modern Christianity can seemingly work magic. It can be made to serve our deepest desires. It can It can even Bring Left and Right together as politics fails to do!

How is that possible, you say?

Christendom has become a sophisticated, multi-billion dollar industry, complete with Mega-Churches that fulfill every need and desire. It's become, for many, a set of easy and easy-to-accept beliefs that make little or no demands on its members.

And for each and every interest group or belief, Christianity is flexible and its doctrines fungible enough to be made to “fit” every belief and whim.

To the Religious Conservative, Christianity is EASY! Just say the right magical formula - a "Salvation Prayer" - believe that the ancient creeds say what must be said to ensure eternal salvation, have an emotional experience in church each week (where we go to hear great bands, too) and that’s it! Nothing else is required of us by God. And don’t you let anyone DARE try to tell you that you should be “good” or follow “commandments,” because rules and work restrict our freedom, and salvation cannot be EARNED by us. Right?

To the Religious Liberal, Christianity is EASY! Just be polite to other people and express a vague “Love” to everyone, and that’s all that’s required by God (however we choose to personally define this “God” figure, if we choose to define Him/Her/It at all.) And never mind all those mean "commands" Jesus spoke about. He just wants us to crush our political enemies and be political and social activists in his name. Right?

To the Businessperson, Christianity should have ROI, a Return on Investment. Every dollar put into that collection plate should be shoveled back into programs we can see in the church building – programs for my teen, my preteen, my spouse, myself, support groups for my divorced parents, rehab support for my uncle, and a great music program for us all. We need to get what we pay for, and WE are the audience. Right?

To the Televangelist, Christianity promises ease, comfort, wealth, and success. God and Jesus promised all these things and more, if you only look in the right (cherry-picked) Bible verses, and if you buy the latest self-help CD from the TV ministry for $149.95. That’s how we will force Christ to come back and smite all our enemies. Right?

To the New Age fan of the “Secret" and the Word Of Faith crowd, Christianity’s God can be made to act like a magic Genie. If we wish for something really, really hard, we get it from the Universe, because we deserve rewards – and deserve them here and now! 

And what’s the Universe (“God”) for, if not to satisfy our every need, wish and deeply felt desire? God’s Universe can be manipulated to acquire new clothes, a new car, perfect health, jewelry, riches, fame, and of course, sex with a fully compatible mate. That’s how the Universe works. Right?

So, what’s wrong with all this? Why NOT believe what these members of modern-day Christendom believe?

- Jesus said, unambiguously, that we must obey the commandments and do Good Works in order to be saved for eternity. (Mark 10:17-22) 

- Jesus specifically said mere words and vain professions would NOT be enough to secure eternal salvation. (Matt. 7:21; Mark 6:7; Luke 6:46; John 3:19-21) 

- Jesus called out and censured the Rich and preached against their greed and excesses, and said those who loved riches more than God should give up their riches and repent. (Matt. 6:19-20, 19:21; Mark 7:22, 10:25; Luke 6:24, 12:15) 

- Jesus had no place to lay his head, let alone a fancy multi-million dollar sanctuary in which to preach. (Matt. 9:20; Luke 8:58) 

- Jesus said we must give God 200% of our love and devotion, not just our platitudes and lukewarm friendship. (Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27) 

- Jesus said we must love our neighbors not with niceties, but with EXACTLY the same love we give to ourselves, and nothing less. (Matt. 22:39; Mark 12:31) 

- Jesus said people would hate those who followed him, would spit on them and persecute them and even kill them, as they killed him, which is far from promising ease and comfort. (Matt. 5:12-13; Luke 21:17) 

- Jesus specifically said that he was Chosen, Anointed, and Sent out by God to preach repentance from sin, not to act as a militaristic, enemy-slaying General, either then or any time in the future. (John 18:36)

But these facts of the ministry of Jesus are only problems if one wishes to follow the actual teachings of Jesus – the teachings that he said would never pass away; the teachings which Jesus said would lead to the Kingdom of Heaven on the earth and eternal life after we leave it.

If we care about Jesus, and claim to follow him and use his name, we must start actually listening to his words, and we must renounce Christendom and its arrogance, greed and lies told, and believed, in the name of Jesus, God’s Anointed One.

Who’s ready to become a Jesus Follower?

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Why Did Jesus Die? A Meditation #JesusFollowers


"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!" Matt. 32:29-31 (NIV)

"Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem." Luke 13:33 

Why did Jesus die? Jesus said explicitly why he was going to allow himself to be killed: "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you." (John 15:12-14)

So, Jesus died because laying down his life was the greatest form of love. For whom? His friends. Who are his friends? Those who obey his word, which will never become irrelevant (Mark 13:31.) Jesus' death was the ultimate fulfillment of his ministry of love, compassion and self-sacrifice.

This is Godly simplicity! And yet men want to make more, and at the same time, less, of the life, teachings and sufferings of God's Spokesman and our chosen example, Jesus.

Therefore, when Jesus says "It is finished" on the cross (John 19:30) it cannot possibly mean that our requirement to do Good Works is finished, or that our need to go to God to seek forgiveness is finished, or that our duties to serve others is finished. It cannot ever mean any of those things, or Jesus' ministry was in vain.

Let us remain always his friends by seeking to always follow his teachings. Let us not make his death be in vain!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Welcoming the Wrong Messiah - Both Then and Now #JesusFollowers


As Jesus entered Jerusalem on that last week of his life, his disciples were joined by the many who had heard and seen him preach in Galilee and those who heard about his fame far beyond that region. And they rushed to welcome him.

Surely they had heard of his teachings and his works, and believed him to be the Messiah. And so he was. Today, we understand his Messiahship clearly when he said he was sent by God, Whom he called The Father, to rescue us from our sins and call us to repent and turn back to God. 

He proclaimed God’s Kingdom, and said it was both within us and among the people in the form of himself. And he called disciples to follow him in creating this Kingdom and spreading it throughout first Judea and then the earth.

But that wasn’t what many had in mind that day as they welcomed him and proclaimed him “King.” They sought a military leader, someone who would lead a military revolt and overthrow the Romans, re-establishing a literal kingdom of Israel, and bringing justice by the sword, not by words of peace.

And within days, almost all of them would be going home disappointed – saddened that THIS Messiah would not be leading a military revolt. They had somehow drastically misread the clear words of Jesus, and their failure to listen would have grave consequences for them and their nation.

Jesus was always very clear about his mission. He was clear that this Kingdom was to be brought into this earthly reality by our deeds and actions by following God’s Moral Commandments, and that we would all be judged by those deeds to be deemed worthy to enter in to Eternal Life.

His kingdom was “not of this world” and that which belonged to Caesar should be given to Caesar. Every opportunity he was given to sow sedition against Rome, he instead spoke of peace and individual repentance from individual sinful behavior. That’s not the preaching of a revolutionary, conquering Messiah.

Perhaps that’s why the Gospels portray even the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate – who was otherwise known by historians as a brutal, ruthless ruler – as finding no sedition in him at all. Jesus is said to have answered Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, so I would not be delivered over to the Jewish leaders. But my kingdom is not from the world." This was a huge disappointment to those who sought a military revolt.

His entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, rather than on the massive white horse of a general, was also subtle hint about his true mission.

The key to understanding Jesus’ true mission (one of inaugurating a Heavenly Kingdom, not a military revolt) is that the religious leaders of the day hated him. They saw his teachings as a threat, and made numerous accusations against him, all of them false. They accused him of trying to end God’s Law (but he said he was upholding every line of it) and of trying to destroy the Sabbath observance (but he said he was upholding the true spirit of the Sabbath) and even trying to make himself equal with God (something he denied over and over again.)

And the day after his triumphal entry, he did something else that was unexpected: he entered the Temple, and there he loudly condemned those who were using it as a money-making venture, rather than a place of pure worship.

Today, Christendom – those who supposedly revere him and his teachings – continue to misunderstand him. They, like his contemporaries, believe him to be a conquering king who’s going to come back and smite all of his enemies – secular “Romans” – in a bloodbath.

Many arrogantly call themselves “children of the King” and believe that entitles them to riches in this earth, while Jesus taught we should never trust in riches, but instead store up riches in heaven by doing Good Works in this life (which today’s Christendom also condemns.)

Most are quick to worship and admire him, and make his death and return to God into a magical charm that absolves them of the hard work of living in Righteousness as Jesus commanded us to do, rather than obeying his words and honoring his teachings. 

And many make God’s house into a money-making venture, rather than a pure house of worship.

So as we greet Jesus as he enters Jerusalem, let’s renounce those misunderstandings and look back to Jesus and his actual teachings. Let’s stop looking for a conquering General who will make our lives easier by simply killing our enemies and giving us all of Rome’s riches so we can live easily and in physical comfort in this life.

Let’s instead remember that we are greeting God’s chosen Prophet – the one who brings us a Good and Beneficial Message (“Gospel”) that tells us if we turn from our sins, we may live with God eternally, and live the Righteous life God wants us to live here on earth. 

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Using Our Talents To Do Good and Righteous Works #JesusFollowers #parables #Jesus


God has implanted within us an Original Goodness that, when spiritually nurtured, beings forth spiritual completeness, peace, and joy. It is our task to bring out the talents within us, and use them in a Godly manner.

Jesus (Matthew 25:14-30) alludes to this work God has for us to do in the Parable of The Talents (a "Talent" being a description for a sum of money in his time. It is also where we get our word talent, meaning an ability we possess.)

When a group of men were given money, one buried it, two others invested it. Those who used their money for good were praised. The one who hid their money and did nothing with it was condemned for not using the gifts he was given.

We, too, must use wisely the gifts we are given.

And while all of us are flawed, and imperfect, we cannot hide behind this as an excuse for inaction.

All our gifts and abilities come from God. We ought never downplay, degrade or disparage those abilities by saying that they are not good enough to do what God asks us to do. Nor must we pray to God, telling Him that it is HIS job to do the Good Works He calls on US to do.

By asserting that we are somehow unable and ill-equipped to perform them, we take an ungrateful attitude to our Creator's ears. And we must never do that.

God, therefore, doesn't exist to do these things for us. Instead, He gave us the ability to act and do Good on His behalf, and the ability thru Jesus' teachings to know what is Good and Right.

Jesus, the Spokesman of God, and our Example and Template in all things, asks us to use our God-given gifts to act in the service to others.

Jesus preached a Gospel of doing Good Works of Righteousness in humility, seeking to establish God's Kingdom here and now, upon this earth.

Jesus calls on us to love God with every fiber of our Being, to deny ourselves, put others first, and love our neighbors just as we love ourselves.

Our Teacher and Master, Jesus, challenges us to become spiritually complete by actively seeking and doing Righteousness.

THAT is the Gospel Jesus preached, and he challenges us today to take on his Gospel of Good Works, service, and love of others.

And we are well equipped to do this, because this man, Jesus, said that we have the ability to do all the he did. And in all that he did, he pleased God.

Our hope doesn't rest in the idea that God is going to do things to make us materially successful. It rests in the knowledge that God gave us the ability to succeed, spiritually, whether we successful or not in our current material endeavors.

What a great hope and comfort that is!

We ought to be grateful for the abilities God has given us, and while thanking God for them, ask Him to continue granting us the spiritual strength, comfort, and, encouragement that will sustain us thru our lifelong journey.