Sunday, September 25, 2016

#Jesus: Fully and Completely Human, Like Us #JesusFollowers


What happens if Jesus was actually "just" a human being? What if Jesus was conceived and born exactly as we were, and was fully and completely human, just like us? The implications are startling for how we view our faith in God, and in a very good way.

Those who walked with him during his ministry knew very well that Jesus got hungry, got angry, got tired, slept, wept, bled, and prayed to God, just like they did. They knew him as a boy, they saw him gain knowledge, and grow from a baby into a man. In fact, this is the picture that manages to come through even in the Gospels as they have come down to us.

So, if this was the view of the earliest followers of Jesus, what happens when we, too, view Jesus as our elder brother - a fellow human being, fully and completely human, like us?

Something wonderful happens! With centuries of human inventions swept away, Jesus' teachings become fresh, alive and challenging, just as when he presented them the first time to astonished and joyful crowds.

With a completely human Jesus, the Gospel is a glorious set of challenges to accomplish. Jesus no longer preaches DOWN to us, knowing we cannot obey his lofty teachings that only a God-man can follow.

We must obey God’s moral Laws, and seek to follow Jesus in ALL of his teachings – because Jesus was able to follow God in all things, and said we could do all that he had done.

If we don't believe this is true, or think it's impossible, then we need to stop following him, because we are liars, not Jesus Followers. (1 John 2:4-6)

The Apostles said that God chose this fully and completely human Jesus (Acts 2:22) from among us human beings to be our example. And when Jesus said we may follow him, we know that we are able.

As a "mere" human being, Jesus' teachings become something amazing. His full and complete humanity becomes our FULL pattern of life, because he followed all he tells us God requires of us, and calls on us to do exactly the same. If we cannot do this, then Jesus was a liar when he says he did all God asked of him.

But he was just not lying, of course. His life and teachings show that he was honest about his relationship with God, and that this is the relationship we are ALSO meant to have with our Creator.

In short, the goals Jesus set for us only make sense if they are achievable BY us. And they are achievable only if he was fully and completely human, as we are.

When Jesus is viewed as fully and completely human, we accept as truth that God chose him from among humanity to be our example. And when he said we may follow him, we know that we are able.

God knows our spirit before we are born. He has always been fully aware of what we are capable, and in what ways we are weak. He didn't need to pretend to be human to do this. He is all-knowing, and all-seeing, and chose this perfectly obedient human being to be our example.

Jesus, who, as a man, was faithful to God in all things, assures us that we can do all that he did. (John 13:15; 14:12) Because Jesus followed God not with his lips alone but with his acts and with his heart, we need never fear acting as he did, letting our humble Works define our Faith.

When Jesus says "Take up your cross daily and follow me," he's calling us on a journey of joyful suffering and service, just as he embarked upon. 

But if we do not follow his words, we are not really following Jesus. If we make excuses for not obeying his call to us, we are not worthy of his name. This fully and completely human Jesus is meant to be followed, not just admired.

“If you love me, keep my commands,” he says (John 14:15) But If we claim to know and love him, but reject his teachings, we are liars, unfit for his name. (1 John 2:4)

The fully human Jesus doesn't set impossible goals for the rest of us. If a human being just like us calls us to be perfect, "just as your Father in Heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48) and he, himself achieved it, then that is a challenge worthy of human beings.

We lose our excuses for sinning with a fully, completely human Jesus. We can no longer say we are "only human," hiding behind our alleged inherited moral sinfulness, if Jesus, too, was born as we were, and yet found favor with God. We can no longer hide behind our alleged human frailty, we cannot blame others or our supposed genetic inability, and we can't say that sinning is our "nature," if Jesus shared that nature with us, fully and completely.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

THE SERMON OF SERMONS – Using Our God-Given Salt #JesusFollowers

Jesus said: "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  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. 5:13-16)  (ESV)
We are called by Jesus to be salt and light – salting the earth with goodness and enlightening it with righteous deeds But if our salt has become tasteless, what then? What if we act without righteousness, or are so infrequent in our Good Deeds, that having they become pointless? Worse, what if we simply ignore Jesus’ call, because we have come to believe that this salt and light are unnecessary, never to be used at all in our lives?

Jesus spoke to challenge us and calls us today to be examples in his name. As God’s chosen Prophet and Spokesman, Jesus authoritatively calls us to take up his challenge and to follow his example. 

We are called to show by our ACTS that we are heeding his call, and are taking up his challenge – not in a prideful way, but in a way that is pleasing to God, our Creator.

Coming in the middle of Jesus’ powerful Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew, this is a clear and unambiguous call for us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world – letting our light shine before others.

It’s vital to understand that Jesus believes we are capable of doing Good Works for others in his name. In fact, he says we MUST seek to do these Good Works, if we claim to be his followers and wish to still call him “Master.” Some have denied this is necessary, but to deny what Jesus clearly says makes his call meaningless, and the salt worthless.

We've been given the gifts of salt – among them, the gifts of Jesus’ holy example and our God-given ability to choose righteousness over wickedness. But if we allow those gifts to become stale, either by throwing them on the ground to be trampled or pretend that we lack the ability to use them to do Good, then we've failed.

We've been given gifts of light – among them, Jesus’ teachings and our God-given ability of reason and knowledge. But is we convince ourselves that using them to serve others is unnecessary, or convince ourselves that Good Works are merely OPTIONAL things we do if we feel like it – then we make the Good and Beneficial Message (Gospel) of Jesus into a mockery.

Clearly, Jesus calls us to do good and great things to glorify God, our Heavenly Father, and as a fully human man himself, he has shown us that we, as human beings, are fully able to do great things on behalf of others. Let there, then, be no excuse to hide our gifts! 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

When The World Crashes Down Around Us #JesusFollowers


On this, the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, when the world seemed to come apart, we pause and reflect on just how fragile we, and our world, seems to be.

When the world crashes down around us, we look to God, and we look to each other, for comfort and strength. And this is just as it should be.

God assures us that He will grant us comfort, strength and peace in times of tragedy and times of struggle and pain. Many turn in difficult times to the comfort of the Twenty-third Psalm, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

Also they turn also to Isaiah: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Jesus assures us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4)

And just like the entire world in which we all live, the individual world in which we live is in danger all the time of crashing down around us.

A lost job; a car accident; a natural disaster; the loss of a spouse, a child or a parent; the sudden end of a relationship, an unexpected terminal illness, all of these can put us in a place of pain and anguish.

These and many more can become our personal Nine-Elevens - far less devastating on a national scale, for sure, but personally and closely devastating nonetheless.

How do we get through our tragedies? With the help of others, and with the help of God.

We are often shaken and damaged by our circumstances, and our reaction to our struggles, frankly, is often to retreat inside ourselves and hide.

Our spirits were made by our Creator to comfort others, and to also seek the comfort of others in our time of need.

We are called to be the light of the world, and in times of trouble, we demonstrate that light.

On 9/11, rescue workers, ministers, and the people of New York City rushed in to help those hurt and those whose families had died in the attack, many putting their safety and even their long-term health in harm's way for others.

Jesus says that there is no greater love than to give one’s life for his friends, and we are his friends if we do what he calls us to do. (John 15:13)

The firemen and police officers who risked their lives to enter the Twin Towers that fateful day to attempt to save others were surely the friends of Jesus. They were literally the light that guided many to safety, before losing their own lives.

There are some who raised their fists to the sky that day, and on many days since, and said, “Why, God? Why are YOU doing this to US?” But they miss the point. God, and God’s chosen spokesman, Jesus, calls us to be HIS hands, HIS loving arms, and HIS sympathetic tears here on this earth.

God is not in the destruction, but in the healing after it. He is not in the storm, assures the psalmist, but in the "small, still voice" following the storm. (1 Kings 19:12)

Jesus assures us that God is our Father, who loves us so much that he chose Jesus and sent him out to preach a Good and Beneficial Message (Gospel) throughout the world. (John 3:16; Luke 4:43)

Whenever we comfort the afflicted, clothe the naked, give shelter to the homeless, and comfort those in need after a tragedy, we are comforting Jesus himself, and we are acting as God wishes us to act. (Matt. 25:40)

Let us be the light in times of darkness that Jesus calls us to be.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Jesus We Need To Hear Again #JesusFollowers


Should we be actively building a better and a more Godly world, or should we simply do nothing and wait for God to make it better? Should we seek our own advantage, or put other's needs ahead of our own? Should we do Good things, or just call ourselves “good?” (Or are we allowed to even CALL ourselves that?)

If we read the words of Jesus, the answers to these and other questions are clear. But if we listen to today's church, the answers are unclear.

The teachings of Jesus are clear, consistent and powerful.

Jesus said his words would last forever - would not pass away. And his teachings about how we should act in this world were clear.

If we understand that, we would naturally put Jesus clear, plain teachings at the center of our Faith, and they would obviously be placed at the core of any teachings about that Faith.

And yet, modern Christianity has been bogged down with man-made words and man-made doctrines that muddle Jesus' teachings and message, and often obscure it entirely, making them of no effect and importance.

Today’s Churchmen and theologians speak words Jesus never uttered: "Justification," "Sanctification," "Total Depravity," “Original Sin,” "works-salvation." But these words give birth to doctrines that make Jesus' religion a toxic one.

Jesus never said that children are born "unable not to sin." Instead, Jesus tells the disciples to allow children to come to him, since they represent the purity of God's Kingdom.

Jesus never even hinted that human beings couldn't perform Good Works from birth. Instead, he says we MUST seek to do Good Works - deeds of the heart that help our neighbors and show them God’s love.

Jesus said we are to begin acting NOW to build up God's Kingdom, "on earth as it is in Heaven." We aren't to wait for any special signs from God, or to wait at all.

We are justified, says Jesus, not by our vain words, or our intentions alone, or even by faith alone, but rather by our acts, which are judged only by God.

Jesus says we become holy by DOING what is holy, good and righteous. Holiness and Righteousness are ACTS we do, not a mere THING we can get by simply claiming Jesus' holiness as our own, as some teach.

Jesus calls us to turn the other cheek, to not seek our own advantage, to follow the narrow and difficult path of his religion, and that those who seek to be first will be last. Modern preachers, however, often say we must only seek to get our SELVES into Heaven, and that it can be done easily, without effort.

Our goal isn't to simply to "save" ourselves, says Jesus. Those who seek to save themselves, in fact lose themselves. But if we deny ourselves, and lose ourselves in serving others, we gain victory, eternally and in this life.

Far from condemning Good Works, Jesus calls us to do them, without pride, because Godliness is our natural state.

Jesus assures us that we will be judged by God according to our Works - the deeds of our hands - and even then, we'll be judged by a merciful and holy God.

Our Works will light the world, says Jesus, and they will reflect our spiritual journey towards Righteousness as we repent continually for falling short of the Ideal Jesus sets for us.

That is a path Jesus calls us to seek and follow, in his footsteps. And it's a path that is easily understood even by a child.

Our goal isn't to simply to "save" ourselves, says Jesus. Those who seek to save themselves, in fact lose themselves. But if we deny ourselves, and lose ourselves in serving others, we gain victory, eternally and in this life.

By twisting and adding to Jesus' simple words and teachings, modern theologians and ministers make Jesus confusing and strange. He becomes someone who cannot be understood without the help of a Priestly class.

Jesus tells us that neither God nor his teachings were ever meant to be seen "through a glass, darkly." Jesus is a window we can look through to see how God wishes us to live.

Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him, to do JUST AS he did, and even greater things than he did.

This isn't the call of someone who condemns Good Works, who says "wait for God to act, don't act yourselves," or someone who wishes us to simply admire his righteousness and not emulate it.

We are clearly and decisively called by Jesus to go and work Righteousness in this world, doing all we can to be an example of the light of God that was born within us, kindled by the example of Jesus, our teacher.

When we begin to see Jesus as an example we can follow, he becomes a Master we can also love as a brother.

So, let us go out and work Righteousness in this world, doing all we can to be an example of the light of God that was born within us, kindled by the example of Jesus, our teacher.