Sunday, September 16, 2018

We Are Given Moral Freedom By God #JesusFollowers


Jesus, in the establishment of his religion, did not force his followers to accept him. He taught every essential religious truth, made laws for their behavior, and spoke to them with persuasive words.

He then left them to act freely, so the happiness of his disciples might be the reward of obedience, which flows from an enlightened mind and a teachable attitude.

Our Master exhibited the clearest proof of a divine mission. By his life, he displayed the moral worth of his character. He called on his followers to examine his doctrines, to reflect on his works, and to weigh the actions of his life; and for themselves receive his words, obey his commands, and rely on his promises.

Jesus recognized powers in us to judge the evidence on which his religion is founded, and to perceive that his instructions conformed to the unchangeable laws of truth. A number of important inferences may be drawn from this appeal of our Master to the human mind. One is that religion is a rational and voluntary service.

God has given us the attributes of reason and liberty. These make us the subject of a moral government, and make us capable of virtuous action. Take away these abilities, and we cease to be subject to reward or punishment.

To make any course of action good, in a moral sense, an agent must be conscious of duty, and have the ability and power to do it. 

Actions in which the will of the agent have no place have no virtuous properties; and doing those actions cannot be called "moral." The way in which the human mind is used determines our moral character. Our actions create the morality of human conduct.

Having the Reason to distinguish good from evil, and the liberty to choose the one and refuse the other, make us capable of moral conduct and moral self-government. If our freedom and agency is taken away, we are no better than animals, or we become like mere machines.


It is the duty of human beings to enlighten their minds about religion. To act rationally and freely in the important aspects of our faith, we must know its foundation, and learn its essential truths and duties.

We cannot consistently perform the duties of religion, while ignorant of its first principles, any more than we can converse intelligibly in a language with which we are unacquainted.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Aaron Bancroft) 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Is Following Jesus "Easy?" #JesusFollowers


Is following Jesus easy? Many would say yes, of course it is. After all, didn't Jesus say "my yoke is easy and my burden is light?" (Matt. 11:30)

Yes, he did say this. But as with many of the teachings of Jesus, when taken alone and out of context, we can be misled and understand the saying in a way very much opposite of what he intended.

While Jesus probably didn't speak Greek, the same word "easy" in the Greek language text that represents the earliest recorded version we have of his words means "better" and "kind" elsewhere (Luke 5:39; 6:35) 

"My yoke is Better, and Kind" adds an entire new meaning to this verse, and is certainly consistent with his Gospel. And of course, Jesus himself mentions the heavy burdens that other religious teachers of his day, namely the Pharisees, put on their followers, thus explaining the rest of the verse. (Matt. 23:4)

But, let's assume "easy" is exactly the word that was meant here by Jesus, for a moment. In Contemporary culture, we tend to think something easy means something easily accomplished, or quickly done.

Running an errand can be easy. Solving a simple math problem can be easy. Cleaning up a spilled glass of water can be easy.

So you see, Jesus doesn't call us to do something "easy," in a contemporary sense, when he speaks of the Gospel message. And this is why "easy" is a misleading English word to use to describe the Gospel of Jesus.

Being a light to the world, for example, will be met with condemnation, he says, and those who follow him would be persecuted, ridiculed, and even hated for the righteousness that they will pursue.

Jesus also said that those who followed him would be persecuted, ridiculed, and even hated for the righteousness that they would pursue. That can't be easy.

Jesus said that those who follow him should first count the costs of doing so. What costs would there be if following him costs us nothing, and is "easy"?

And of course, Jesus calls us to enter the narrow gate, not the wide one everyone else was seeking to enter. Clearly, the wide gate is the easy path to follow, but it's not the one Jesus calls us to choose.

Modern Christians often want to do what is easy. It is very seductive to believe that merely having an understanding of who Jesus is (the "Person of Jesus") and giving verbal assent to some stories about him is all that he, and God, requires of us.

The problem is, Jesus never said that we were to merely recite a few words, instantly get into heaven, and then do nothing else on the earth until we get there at the end of our earthly lives. (At least not without ripping isolated verses and words out of context.)

That would indeed be easy, but that is not the Gospel that Jesus preached. Nor would it be one worthy of the one chosen by God and anointed as his spokesman, and our example.

Instead of mere "belief on his Person" having the ability to save us, Jesus explicitly says eternal life comes from obeying his teachings, which he says come directly from God, our Creator. (Luke 11:28; John 8:31, 14:15, 14:23)

Jesus taught a vigorous and challenging Gospel, one that is worthy of our attention, and one that, when pursued actively, perfects us and makes us into the full and complete beings that God wishes us to be.

An easy Gospel, one that requires nothing of us, cannot perfect us in the way God wishes us to be perfect.

Knowing this, and having knowledge of this Gospel that Jesus preached, we should rejoice that Jesus preached it, and we should Rejoice even more if we have the courage to follow those teachings.

Let us, therefore, be Jesus Followers!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Are We "Fast-Forwarding" Through The Tough Parts Of The Gospel? #JesusFollowers


The Parable of the Wise Builder begins with Matt. 7:24: "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock."

But let us stop right there. We are often so quick to reach the end that we fail to see the beginning. Like scanning through ads when we record TV shows, we simply scan through the "unimportant" parts to get to the interesting parts of the story, like dramatic rain beating down on the two houses, and one house sliding into the sand with a great crash.

But let's slow down a bit. Jesus in this parable has already given us some great lessons in this first sentence. He says all who hear his words and DOES them are wise.

This tells us first that we may actually hear his words. This seems obvious, but to many in Christendom, his words are not that important, or are at best something that we can treat casually and overlook. Some claim that his words were meant to set up an impossible ideal - something that "convicts us" of being sinners by birth, rather than sinners by action, and therefore, we cannot *really* do what he asks.

But this of course cannot be found coming from the mouth of Jesus, who in direct opposition to this idea says that his words will not pass away (Mark 13:31; Matt. 24:35) And in numerous places, he makes clear that those who follow him are to obey his words.

To hear and obey, therefore, are things only free people can do. And human beings have the free will to hear the message that God sent through His Prophet and spokesman, Jesus, and to respond to it. Then, with the help of God's spirit and the example of Jesus' life, we are able to grow toward that Perfect Ideal.

At the beginning of this parable, we learn that those who do hear and obey are "wise." There are numerous examples of wise and righteous men in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus says he came not to call the Righteous to repentance, but Sinners. Both categories of people exist in our world, as they did in his.

So, we must not ever claim that we're genetically unable to obey and perform Righteous Works for God in the name of Jesus. To do so is to "fast forward" through the difficult work of following Jesus' words.

With this parable, as with many others, Jesus sets before us an ideal of God's Righteousness and tells us "Follow me" (Mark 2:14) and "Obey my teaching" (John 14:23.) God chose and sent Jesus as our perfect ideal, and tells us to follow Jesus - in whom He was "pleased" (Matt. 3:17.)

We are to put his words INTO PRACTICE (Matt. 7:26) so that we do not end up in the shifting sand of man-made beliefs that tell us that obedience to God is an impossible ideal.

This is the challenge of the Good and Beneficial Message ("Gospel") - that we take up the challenge and follow Jesus, doing whatever he said we should do. And in doing so, we build our houses on Rock by ACTING ON his words and putting them into practice (Matt. 7:26) so that we do not end up mired in the shifting sand of a man-made, dangerous belief that obedience to God is an impossible ideal, and can easily be ignored.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Why Do We Exist? To Love And To Serve Others! #JesusFollowers


It is clear from the teachings of Jesus that we were created for a purpose: 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.

God has set high standards for us, and He knows we can do all the He asks us to do. Who knows us better than our Creator? He knows our weaknesses, for sure, but also knows of what we are capable.

He would not ask us to be holy if there was not something within us that would allow us to seek this lofty goal. He would not call us to be perfect and complete if He did not believe this is something are innermost Soul yearns for.

God chose from among us a man with whom He was well pleased; one who did all that God asked him to do, and did so perfectly. This man, Jesus, was anointed and chosen by God to be our template, example, and guide in all things.

The core of the message Jesus preached was to pursue moral completeness in all of our interactions, be they with our fellow human beings, or with God, our Father and Creator.

Jesus, this chosen, God-anointed man, said that we may do all that he did, and even greater things. He taught us through parables and sayings that we have a choice to follow Godliness or to reject it, and that God alone would judge those who chose to seek the opposite path.

We can have the Knowledge of what is Good through the example of Jesus. We also can know that we may accomplish all that God asks of us, because Jesus, our elder brother, has done it.

God has not asked us to do the impossible. He did not set us up for failure, He isn't mocking us, nor is Jesus in his teachings to us. And there is no fault in our Nature preventing us from seeking the Godliness Jesus calls us to seek after. 

Whatever past acts on our part that may have dulled our sense of Good, and damaged our God-given ability to do what is right, Jesus gives no indication that we cannot change the course of our lives with our future actions.

Indeed, Jesus confidently declares that we may yet deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him. Those who follow his teachings are his friends, and he lived, preached, taught, and died as an example for his friends. To his friends, he revealed all that God taught him, and from him, we have all the Knowledge we need to please God.

When we repent of our past misdeeds, and then accept the message Jesus alone can teach us, Our past ignorance of the Goodness God wishes us to pursue melts away. When we commit to following that path of Goodness, we begin to make our friendship with Jesus into something morally complete, Good and tangible.

This path of Goodness consists of serving others. We are called to love one another, but not just love, love backed by service. We are called explicitly to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort those in need of comfort, visit prisoners, and by doing so, we are a light and example to the world.

This is the Gospel message, and no other: to serve and love one another, and by doing this, we serve, love and honor God.

When we gain Knowledge of this Gospel, we are challenged by Jesus to live it. By living it, we begin to establish God's Kingdom here on the earth. 

Let's commit to taking this precious Knowledge of the Gospel and make it real in our lives!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

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, August 12, 2018

Jesus' Gospel Frees Us To Do Good More Perfectly! #JesusFollowers


We are born with the Natural ability to do Good. But it is only when we encounter and follow Jesus, the man who perfectly demonstrates for us what is Good in the eyes of God, that we can know and fully understand the Good we are called to do.

Jesus taught that when we follow him, we are free, indeed (John 8:38). This freedom is not a call to pursue lawlessness, and does not mean that we may be released from any future accountability to God, Who remains our Father and Creator, as well as our Judge (Ps. 96:10; Prov. 24:12; Matt. 7:2; 12:36; 16:27). Instead, the opposite is true. Learning at the feet of our Master, we quickly learn that we are called to an even greater obedience.

Jesus calls out to us to hear his teachings, to understand his life as one we should emulate, and seek out others to follow as their example, also.  This, and no other message, is properly called The Gospel.

In this Gospel, Jesus plainly teaches that if we claim to love him, we will do all that he taught us (John 14:21; 15:10) and that we will teach others to do the same. (Matt. 28:20)

When we come to know and understand the Gospel of Jesus, we are "free, indeed" - not freed from the duty to do Good, because this is the core of his teaching - but freed from an ignorance and imperfect knowledge of God's holiness, and freed to do Good more completely, the way God intends.

And what is this perfect Way Jesus beckons us to follow? It is to love God, our Creator, in gratitude with all of the strength our souls can muster, and to love our fellow human beings with every fiber of our own Being. (Matt. 22:37)

The Gospel of Jesus is a call to love more fully; a love that completes and perfects us, because when we take up his Gospel's challenge, we deny all selfishness to totally seek God's path of Righteousness. (Matt. 16:24-25)

This is what Jesus meant when he called for us to be perfect, as in his call for us to, "be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48.) This perfection does not refer to some form of physical beauty, or even flawlessly performing our daily tasks. This is shown clearly when he calls for us to forgive as God forgives, and love as God loves (Matt. 6:14-15)

The Gospel presented by Jesus, therefore, recognizes the God-given abilities of all human beings to do great Good. And the life Jesus led in perfect obedience to God (Matt. 12:36; John 8:29) gives us a template of how we, also may perfect ourselves by pursuing this perfect Way.

We begin the process of becoming morally perfect servants of God and our fellow Human beings by first recognizing and repenting of our past imperfection, and then dedicating ourselves to seeking to follow his teachings.

These teachings of Jesus alone guide us directly to the holiness God knows we are capable of demonstrating in our own lives, just as Jesus perfectly demonstrated them in his.

It is in this sense that we can fully understand the otherwise difficult teaching that it is only through Jesus that we may reach our heavenly Father. (John 14:6)

In our ignorance of what is perfectly Good, we cannot have knowledge of the path God sets out for us. Jesus, by revealing to us through his life and teachings and even in his death, shows us clearly that perfect path of active obedience and self-denial we are called to follow.

Jesus and the message he left for us continues to guide us towards the Light of God's Righteousness. We are, he taught, to become lights to the world, just as he was the light of the world (Matt. 5:14; John 8:12)

Obtaining the knowledge of this message, and acting upon it, shows us God's Righteous Light, and allows us to share it with others by our deeds. God's spirit is an ever-present help to us on this journey towards holiness.

Let us become more like Jesus daily as we deny ourselves, serve others, and seek to follow his path of Righteousness, becoming the Light in the world that Jesus calls us to become.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

We Are Here 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, July 29, 2018

The Teachings of Jesus Call us to ACTION! #JesusFollowers


Those who have gained the knowledge of the teachings of Jesus and seek to follow him fully, and in humility, can truly become whole, perfect and complete in Godliness.
Jesus was the perfect example through which we can know and see how God wishes us to act, live, to relate to others, and to die.
It is in this context that we can begin to understand the otherwise "difficult" saying of Jesus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6.) The rarely-quoted next verse reads: "If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him."
Seeing and learning without acting upon what we've seen and learned is pointless, and useless, leading to dead faith (James 2:20; 26.) We cannot hide our Light, or keep our Good Works to our selves, but instead, Jesus calls us to spread goodness and light to others (Matt. 5:16.) It is only by action that we spread God's Kingdom upon the face of the earth.
Jesus challenges us to be better than we are, not remain exactly as we were before we met him. The act of following him is meant to transform us; we are to be BORN AGAIN in service and obedience to God, with the example of God's chosen exemplar always before our eyes (John 3:3.)
Jesus didn't ever claim to be God. But he did claim to be Godly, and he was in fact perfectly in tune with God's will. He says of his Father, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:29.)
From his example, we need not look through a "dark glass" seeking vainly for what God wills for our lives. Jesus lays it out clearly, and says we CAN achieve it, and must attempt to do so. And we need not do it alone. God's servant Jesus teaches that we can rely on God's forgiveness when we falter on this journey, and must as a consequence forgive others who may offend us - in Godly imitation of both God and God's servant, Jesus (Matt. 6:14-15.)
The Good and Beneficial Message proclaimed by Jesus wasn't to simply have mere belief in his existence, but was a call to ACTIVELY serve God, to follow Jesus, and to love others just as we love ourselves (Mark 12:29-31.) His Gospel calls us to serve and act, not sit and contemplate, nor to simply admire Jesus nor even to worship him.
To be Good and Beneficial, the message of Jesus must spread goodness to others, and be beneficial to others. To turn a deaf ear to God's instruction through Jesus is detestable to God (John 9:31; Prov. 28:9.)
When we realize the wonderful gifts God has given all people from birth - but we have not used to benefit others until we knew Jesus - we should feel a great sorrow of realization, followed immediately by great joy that we now know the goal for which we were born, and the Good Works for which God has equipped us!
Jesus is a "Door" and a "Gate" by which we may walk through and glimpse the potential life for which God has equipped us - and has promised to continue to equip us. Let us have the courage to walk through this narrow passageway and enter into spiritually complete and morally useful lives together!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

An Authentic Gospel Leads to Our Authentic Selves. #JesusFollowers


It is said that a sculptor was asked how he carved a great work of art out of a large slab of marble. He replied that he simply carved away all the parts that were NOT part of the sculpture.

Jesus calls us to an authentic Faith - a Faith of action that sheds those things that are keeping us from becoming spiritually complete.


There is within us an ideal person - the person God created us to be, and one that God KNOWS we can be. When we allow the inauthentic and false parts to be chipped away, our authentic and true selves emerge.

Today, when we hear that we need to be "authentic," many imagine that this has something to do with our clothing and how we present ourselves to others. While that's somewhat true, in Faith, wearing a more authentic set of clothes can be a new, trendier way of continuing to mask false beliefs and attitudes.

Jesus often spoke of being "true" - by which he meant we must be genuine and authentic both on the inside and out.

Jesus called out the Pharisees for being inauthentic. They were like tombs on the inside and all bright and shiny on the outside. 

He wasn't calling for the Pharisees to also become rotten on the outside, as well as on the inside, so that they "matched" - although that certainly would have made them "true to themselves" in one sense. He was instead calling on them to carve away all the non-ideal portions of their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. 

Our false and ungodly parts have perhaps been with us for many years; attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that are false and hinder our spiritual growth have encrusted us like shavings of marble that cover our true selves and keep us from God, as well as from Godliness.

But draping trendy clothing on a slab of marble that is encrusted like this will not help. How silly it would be for an artist to simply cover up a slab of marble with a sheet or a jacket and say "I'm done!" or "It's fine just the way it is!"

And yet, there are those in christianity today who believe simply wearing cooler clothing, using more "relevant" cultural references and having a rock band perform during a church service will make what they're saying better and truer. It does not. 

Like the Pharisees, who took away the “key to knowledge,” and failed to guide others to it (Luke 11:52) many today claim that the path to salvation is easy, and the gate to Heaven is wide - requiring no changes WITHIN us and nothing FROM us. They are not speaking to us about the knowledge of true and authentic Righteousness Jesus calls us to seek, so that we may achieve spiritual completion in Godliness by transforming our behavior.

No, instead, they condemn and even ridicule the Good Works Jesus tells us we must perform in order to become lights to the world (and to achieve salvation with God eternally.) And they are doing it, not with the Puritanical clothing, stern words and majestic organ music of past generations, but with blue jeans, accompanied by rock music and a light show.

One has to think that it's not even the hip clothing and shiny, large buildings that are offensive to God - because styles of clothing and music certainly change - but it's the wicked lies told by the hiply-dressed pastors within them that are truly offensive. Spoiled milk poured into new cartons is still spoiled.

We must have the courage to embrace the Authentic Gospel in order to become our Authentic Selves.

Jesus alone provides us this Authentic Gospel. He said of his own teachings, "The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is TRUE [authentic/genuine] and in him there is no falsehood." John 7:18 (ESV)

Jesus calls us to be authentic, and that starts with knowing God - the one, authentic, indivisible God of Israel. It starts with knowing the man Jesus, whom God chose and commissioned from among us human beings to be our template and example to follow in all things.

Jesus calls us to be fully transformed and changed by his teachings, and these teachings of his are the only basis for an authentic faith in his God and our God. 

These words of Jesus call us to action, not just to change our clothing, but to change our lives, to change our attitudes, to change our behaviors, and to shed our false but stubborn beliefs, so that we may become the authentic human beings God wants us to become.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

When Trials & Troubles Come Our Way #JesusFollowers


We can be assured that in our lives, we will face trials and troubles, conflict and chaos. But we know that God will always be with us as a source of comfort and strength.

We are confronted with unpleasant and angry people, at work and in our families.

We are torn by indecision and conflict, both within ourselves and among others.

We are given chances to lives immorally and treat others unjustly.

And we are faced with challenges that threaten our passion for righteousness and goodness.

But God is with us as our source of strength and wisdom, to guide us in times of trouble.

"Don't be afraid," God assures us. "because I'm with you, don't be anxious, because I am your God. I keep on strengthening you; I'm truly helping you. I'm surely upholding you with my victorious right hand." (Isaiah 41:10)

Our God "gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak" (Is. 40:29.)

Jesus, the one whom God chose to be our example and teacher in all things, says we can call upon God in prayer when we need strength, peace and comfort.

To hope for a life of ease, without any problems and a guarantee of wealth,  power, health and fame is not the Way Jesus promises us. Instead, Jesus tells us what the Prophets of old told us, that we are not alone because we have God with us.

We are to find peace not in a vague IDEA of Jesus, but in the life, message and death of this man that God chose and sent out to us as a supreme example.

Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." (John 14:27)

And, further, he says, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Peace, or "shalom," was, and remains, a greeting for the Jewish people. It signals that God's peace is with us, and that we may take comfort in God's sheltering arms.

The Psalmist assures us that, "Yahweh is my strength and my shield. My heart has trusted in Him, and I am helped. Therefore my heart greatly rejoices. With my song I will thank Him." (Psalm 28:7)

James the Brother of Jesus says trials and troubles strengthen us and make us more perfect (James 1:2-4.) Wisdom is freely given from God, if we ask for it in faith, he says (1:5.)

We may call upon God for wisdom in our times of need, knowing He provides us with all the strength and wisdom we ask of Him (Matt. 7:7.)

We are urged by Jesus to "remain steadfast" and "endure to the end" (Mark 13:13) seeking after Heavenly treasure when we go to God in prayer (Matt. 6:20; 6:33)

Again, Jesus calls us to hear his words and understand them, bearing fruit and harvesting good works in this world. But when we allow his words to fall on rocky soil, "when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word" that person "immediately" falls away (Matt. 13:20-23.) We must instead by firmly rooted in the teachings of Jesus and the knowledge that God has given us through him and through the Wisdom of the Scriptures.

And as the winds of turmoil beat against our lives, if we remain planted firmly in the rock of Jesus' teachings, we will prevail against them. (Matt. 7:24-27)

When we trust in God and follow the one whom He has chosen, we need never fear whatever the world throws at us, because we can endure to the end.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Making OTHERS The Focus of Our Faith #JesusFollowers


What should the focus of our faith be? The teachings of Jesus give us a clear answer, if we only listen to him, and take his words seriously, as if they are coming from our God-appointed Master (which of course, they are!)

Jesus calls us to deny ourselves take up our cross and follow him. (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23.) We are to be “other-centered,” not focused on Self.

Jesus calls us to self-denial, to serve others beyond even their demands. "If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles (Matt. 5:41.)

Jesus calls on us to live a life of self-denial, not to make ourselves fat, comfortable, wealthy and detached from the cares of Others. We must, if we love Jesus, serve these Others first, and do so with a perfect self-sacrifice, as modeled by none other than Jesus himself (Matt. 20:28; John 13:15.)

And yet, with a perverse sense of self-entitlement, some make God into their own Servant, rather than making God the object of our service and love.

We are called to fully serve God and fully serve our fellow human beings. But many in Christendom - the modern bearer of the Christ's name - often find a way to make our lives, and our faith, all about serving and enriching ourselves. This perverts the Gospel Jesus taught.

If your "Church" is telling you that you are ENTITLED to material success, then your church is speaking against Jesus.

Jesus calls us to serve and lose ourselves in that service. The early disciples of Jesus left ALL - friends, family, material goods, homes, jobs - to follow Jesus (Luke 18:28.)

Jesus assures us that storing up "goods" in Heaven is far greater than storing up material goods - which rust and fall apart (Matt. 6:20.)

If your "Church" is telling you that you CANNOT be Righteous, and that Jesus did all the "work" of "being righteous" FOR YOU 2,000 years ago, then your "church" is lying, and the entire message of Jesus testifies against this horrible doctrine.

It is the one who does Righteousness, not the one who merely says they "have it", that actually is righteous (Matt. 5:20; Isaiah 33:15.) Jesus said we must stop sinning and serving the Self, that we must turn instead to God, and begin seeking (and doing) Righteousness, serving God and obeying God’s commands.

If your "Church" tells you that the cut-throat approach to business and life is the right one, and you should emulate it, RUN from that "Church" Because selfish ambition and jealousy lead to disorder and corruption (James 3:16.)

And if your "Church" lashes out at the concepts of Knowledge, Wisdom, and following the Teachings of Jesus and instead says it's okay to be selfish, this is a place isolated from God's Will (Prov. 18:1.) Again: RUN AWAY. Fast.

What does all this mean for us in our daily lives?

We're called by Jesus to love our neighbor just as we would love ourselves (Mark 12:31) to even love our enemies with just as much strength (Matt. 5:44.) This often, almost always, means putting OTHERS ahead of ourselves. Serving others often means putting our desires on hold, and serving, rather than to be served (Mark 10:45.)

Is this HARD? Yes, it can be hard to put others above yourself. But we were never promised a wide gate (Matt. 7:13) easy religion when we promised we would follow the teachings, life and example of Jesus.

James, the brother of Jesus, puts it like this: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." (James 1:27.)

Jesus is our perfect example (by his Righteous acts) of God's Will for our lives. We must seek to follow Jesus in all things, meekly and humbly seeking God and God's Kingdom first (Matt. 6:33) above our own needs and desires, and relying on God's forgiveness when we fall short, forgiving others as we expect to be forgiven by God.

So, let us turn our hearts to God's way, and not to selfish gain (Psalm 119:36)! Let's show by our Lights (Matt. 5:14) and our Deeds (James 2:18) what kind of Faith we have in God's anointed Spokesman, Jesus!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

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, June 24, 2018

Did Jesus Promise His Followers Material Prosperity? #JesusFollowers


A passage in the Gospel of Luke gives many today the idea that Jesus teaches us that God wants us to be rich – and if we only give out money (to others, especially to Evangelical Christian ministers) – then God will make us rich, too!

Luke 6:38 reads: "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

This has become a very popular “proof text” to show that God indeed wants us to become wealthy in this life as a sign of His blessing and “favor” above other people.

But those who assert this are not at all hearing the plain (and clear) words God’s chosen, anointed one, Jesus.

In fact, taken in context, Jesus was speaking of reciprocity – doing to others as we would have others do to (and for) us:

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

This is a call to serve and give to others both equally and generously, and for us to serve and give to those who are serving US just as generously – without judgment or condemnation. How wrong it is to turn this into a "Return on Investment" scheme in which we contractually force God into paying us when we give his ministers money!

If we actually listen to Jesus, he speaks clearly to us about wealth – and in fact, he speaks about wealth and poverty perhaps more than on any other topic. 

"And he said to them, 'Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his  possessions.'" (Luke 12:15) 

Is that a clear message about seeking wealth and earthly possessions? How frequently Evangelical pastors forget to quote THIS verse!

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21

The message begins: “DO NOT lay up for yourselves treasures on earth.” Is that a message that tells us we will be showered with wealth in this life? Clearly, it’s not the money we acquire, it’s the goodness in our hearts and the purity of our actions that "lay up treasure" in Heaven.

And when the one we call “Master” says, “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24) how much clearer does he have to be?

Jesus also told a Rich Man who asked what he must do to be saved (after telling him to obey the commandments) to sell his possessions (Mark 10:17-22.) What would a well-off family today think when told they must do this to be Saved? Can you imagine how surprised they would be!

And yet, many church-attenders today have been taught by their pastors that if they think positive thoughts, have a lot of faith, and “name and claim” the material goods they desire, God will instantly give these things to them.

But we are not told by Jesus to “name and claim” riches in the name of God. This is magic, not the God-centered faith Jesus preached. Instead, Jesus says repeatedly and plainly that we should not put our trust in earthly riches, NOR SHOULD WE SEEK THEM, instead seeking the Kingdom of God and praying that we may bring God’s Righteousness into our own lives, and on this earth.

What Jesus preached was consistent with the Wisdom of the Prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures.

"Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf." we learn from the Proverbs (11:28.)

The Pslamist writes, "Though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them" (Psalm 62:10.) And warns about those who, "trust their riches and brag about their abundant wealth" (Psalm 49:6.) and warns against "the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth" (Psalm 52:7.)

Jesus and the Hebrew Bible instead both call us to be rich in Righteous ACTIONS, even if we are poor in our finances. Jesus and Scripture both teach that riches are judged by what we accrue in Heaven, not on earth. And both teach that poverty in spirit is worse than poverty in material wealth. In fact, material wealth often gets in the way of spiritual wealth.

Calling upon God for money, and measuring God’s "favor" and blessings by the money we acquire from God makes God into a Heavenly ATM machine, where we get whatever we wish and our desires are gratified, instantly. 

Whenever Jesus opens his mouth, his message negates this gross parody of God’s Kingdom.

Let us serve God with abundant spiritual Riches, loving God and our fellow human beings as Jesus calls us to do for the sake of God’s Kingdom. As we do this, we will grow eternally in Heavenly Riches that will never fade away and rust and moth cannot never touch.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

#Jesus Calls Us To Live A Life Of Love #JesusFollowers




The life of love to God and to our fellow human beings will be a life of action and of service. In the view of Jesus, love is an energetic power which sets all the faculties of the soul in vigorous operation.

If we truly love God, we will do His will. It avails us nothing to profess allegiance which is not evidenced by obedience. The way of righteousness is a strait one, and is entered by a narrow gate; that is, the Christian life is not a lax and lawless life, but one on which strict and strenuous demands are made.

Jesus often depicts in his parables the nature of the true life as involving watchfulness, fidelity, and labor. “Why do you stand here idle all day?” (Matt. 20:6) is the challenge of the Master in the parable of the Vineyard. Jesus’ disciples are laborers, servants, stewards. Their life is one of duty and responsibility.

He taught his disciples that they were not merely to love those who loved them, but to love also those who hated and injured them: "I say unto you, Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully abuse you." Why? “In order that you may become [or, prove yourselves to be] the sons of your Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 5:43-44)

From these passages it is clear that one's "neighbor" is anyone whom we can help, and that love is, by its nature, large and generous, giving out in sympathy and service to all who come within the reach of its power.

For Jesus, love is not a calculating prudence which renders its services because it hopes for reward in return. No, to love God is to choose his perfect life as our pattern and goal, and to live in the spirit of it. Such is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it. Love to man is shown in a Love to Godlike estimate and treatment of others.

Such love requires that we strive to realize for our fellow human beings the achievement of divine love; that we view the rights and value of others as equal to our own, and regard and treat others in accord with those universal principles and laws of love and truth which are disclosed in God's treatment of human beings.

The righteousness of God is perfect, holy love, and the law of love for us is our likeness to God in our attitude and action.

When he was asked for a law by the observance of which one might attain eternal life, he cited the law of love. Love, then, is righteousness. The kingdom and the righteousness of God are to be sought and won by loving God supremely, and one's neighbor as himself.

But what, then, is love, and what specifically does love require? The elements of the true righteousness, which consists in love, may readily be gathered from the Sermon on the Mount. The qualities listed in the Beatitudes - humility, meekness, mercy, purity of heart, and peace - are among the characteristics of a true love to God and our fellow human beings.

Love prompts us to good deeds, to reconciliation with others, to self-restraint and discipline, to straight-forwardness and truthfulness in speech, to kindness and a forgiving spirit, even toward those who have done us injury.

Jesus often illustrated what such love requires: thereby affording us a clear view of his conception of love's nature. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a striking example. (Luke 10:30-37) In it, Jesus shows us at once what is the scope and the action of true love. Such love is universal; it knows nothing of the boundaries which separate social classes.

The law of love demands that even a despised Samaritan, if in distress, shall be served and helped. It requires something more than a compassionate sentiment or a patronizing pity. It requires action and effort, and, if need be, sacrifice. It is not satisfied with the theoretic sympathy which says, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," (James 2:16) but demands that what the sufferer's necessities require be done.

Love also requires us to always be ready to forgive injuries upon condition of repentance on the part of the wrong-doer. Forgiveness on our part is conceived by Jesus (Matt. 6:16-17) as a condition that precedes our reception of God's forgiveness, because the forgiving spirit is a test and measure of the desire for God-likeness.

Those whose readily grant forgiveness to any who have injured them shows themselves to be among those who embrace the life of love - recognizing, honoring, and obeying Jesus’ teachings.

If we wish to reap the benefits of the divine law of love, then we must consent to put our own lives under its sway. Love is a reciprocal principle; it is a law of right relationships among persons. Hence, the bestowal of the benefits of divine love calls for attitudes of humility and obedience on our part.

(Adapted from a Sermon by Rev. George Barker Stevens)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

#Jesus Calls Us to a Life of Works, Action, Love and Service! #JesusFollowers


God equips us, from birth, with gifts that are meant to be used for Good.

Jesus - the one God has chosen and sent out as our perfect example - calls on us to do all that is within our power to perform Good Works, relying on these Original, Natural gifts, and seeking greater strength and wisdom from God, Who gives to us abundantly when we need spiritual renewal.

Jesus, God's spokesman and our example, did not chart out for us any new way to earn God's favor and eternal life. In truth, he taught the same path that always was, and always will be, the true path to eternal life; namely, keeping the commandments, or loving God and our neighbor, which is the same thing, and is the sum and substance of the God’s Moral Law.

Jesus' call, "whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" (Matt. 7:12) summaries his entire ministry and the Hebrew Bible's moral teaching.

By following after the path God wishes us to lead – the path of Righteousness – we will live fuller, more complete and more joyful lives. Jesus lays out for us this path clearly, plainly, and in a way that needs no further revelations or elaboration from men.

Jesus has clearly called us to a life of works and action, of radical love and service, calling on us to love our neighbors just as we love ourselves. (Mark 12:33; Matt. 22:35-40)

Jesus teaches us that we should humbly perform Good Works and Holy Service. As Jesus' brother James puts it, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:26.)

Jesus calls us to seek to become more holy people, to seek to act in righteousness.

Jesus calls on us to deny ourselves, and to serve others first. We should live our lives in the joyful service of others.

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

‎Jesus‬ calls us to put his teachings into practice in our lives, lest we build our houses of faith on the shifting sands of mere words and empty praise, rather than the solid rock of obedience. (Matt. 7:24-26)

Jesus calls on us to not be hypocrites. He pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees – the religious leaders of his day – for being obsessed with man-made doctrines and rituals, but neglecting, "the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness." (Matt. 23:23)

And how do we know that we can do this, that we can do all that Jesus asks of us? Because Jesus lived in perfect obedience, doing in all things that pleased God (his and our Father) and showed by this example that ALL OF US are able to do as he did.

We are left without excuse, therefore, and are called to humbly seek the spiritual completeness Jesus achieved, asking God's forgiveness when we fall short, repenting of these sins, and seeking strength to continue in obedience.

Let us humbly and with reverence serve God according to the example He has chosen for us – through the life and the teachings of Jesus. Let him alone be our example and guide in all things.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

12 Ways #Jesus Challenges Us to Be Better! #JesusFollowers


Jesus' ministry was a call to humanity to come back to God, our Creator. That’s not a minor thing, nor is it a call that can leave us unchanged.

In fact, while we may come to God “as we are,” we cannot remain unchanged after approaching our Heavenly Father, Who is our Creator.

God chose Jesus, anointed him, and sent him out to preach His Truth.

Jesus’ ministry calls us to make changes to our life, as well as to humbly approach God in repentance. Without action on our part, starting with repentance, we aren’t truly returning to God, but simply SAYING we are.

Jesus calls us to be better people. Mere belief is not enough, but is only the start of our Faith. If we say we love Jesus, we will keep his commands (John 14:15.)

Those who claim to know him, but don’t believe his commands are worth following, or are “irrelevant” or are superseded by another person’s teachings, are liars, and don’t really know Jesus at all (1 John 2:4.)

Here, then, are a few (not all) of the commands Jesus gives those who say they follow him:

1. Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30.) That’s complete and total love, not just lip service or emotionalism.

2. Jesus calls us to love each other, our neighbors, with the same zeal with which we love God – complete and total love (Mark 12:31.) And all people are our neighbors.

3. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves take up our cross and follow him. (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23.) We are to be “other-centered,” not focused on Self.

4. Jesus calls on us to do the will of the Father – His God and our God, the Creator of all that is (Matt. 12:50; John 5:30.) Mere words and vain professions are NOT enough to ensure eternity with God (Matt. 7:21.)

5. Jesus calls on us to forgive others, and makes this duty a condition of being forgiven by God (Matt. 6:15-16.)

6. Jesus tells us we must repent of our sins. “Repent,” he says, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17.) Repent means to feel sorry about our sins, and work to stop sinning.

7. Jesus calls on us to “go the second mile” (Matthew 5:38–42) which is not a challenge to be lukewarm or partially committed to serving others.

8. Jesus says we must lay up heavenly treasures, not earthly ones that don’t last (Matthew 5:44–46.) The race for wealth doesn’t last, but our rewards in Heaven do.

9. Jesus tells us to be a “light to the world” and that we must let our Good Works “shine” so that others may see God’s righteousness manifest in us (Matt. 5:14-16.)

10. Jesus calls on us to choose the “narrow gate” that leads to God and salvation, rather than the “wide gate” that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14.) The popular way, the easy way of “faith alone” and the way that requires the least work isn’t the way Jesus calls us to approach God.

11. Jesus calls us to “do to others that which you would have done unto you” (Matt 7:12.) This “Golden Rule” has been ignored, demeaned and ridiculed by modern Christendom, but it’s at the core of Jesus’ preaching.

12. Jesus calls on us to follow him (Matt. 4:19.) Jesus sets for us a perfect example of how to live our lives (John 13:15.) We have the ability to serve God through Jesus’ moral commands (Matt. 5:48) strengthened always through God’s spirit and Jesus’ holy example.

Let us take up the challenge Jesus puts before us!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

What Is Our True Nature? #JesusFollowers


A minister on the radio was heard saying that humans beings are all, morally, "condemned criminals" in need of "radical surgery." Holy mixed metaphors, Batman! Not only was that metaphor a language crime, it was theologically criminal, as well!

Fortunately for us, he is wrong. In fact, Jesus teaches just the opposite. Jesus, just like the Hebrew prophets before him, consistently taught that we are all free to choose either to do good or to do evil, and that we will be held responsible for those choices when we stand before God.

Let us quickly dispense with the idea that we are all condemned criminals. The only ministers who say this too readily discount the idea of our Heavenly Father' vast mercy, or are deliberately hiding this wonderful aspect of our Creator.

Of course, what this minister was really trying to imply is that we are all born under an imaginary curse, one that somehow makes us unable to do any good to please God, and that we are therefore born already condemned in the sight of God. 

This is scripturally false and logically nonsense.

That God made us free to choose and liable for our choices is one of the best attested facts of scripture - both the Hebrew scriptures and the words of our Master, Jesus, whom God chose to be our example and teacher in all things.

To claim that we are so damaged that we can do no good; that we cannot follow Jesus and do as he calls us to do, are man-made excuses for our failure to obey.

Not to mention, it makes Jesus into an unreasonable master, for commanding what cannot be done by us. That would mean that God knows we cannot do it, but had Jesus tell us to do these impossible tasks anyway. 

If God did this, and of we could not act Righteously, God would be the author of our sins, and an unfair judge. He would be responsible for our actions, and not us, if we were unable by our very nature to obey what He and his chosen son have laid out before us to do.

It would also mean that Jesus was a liar, and his teachings calling is to do Good would be a mockery, too.

Without our freedom of Will and freedom to act there can be no judgement of our actions by a moral God. But the good news is that we were created with the ability to choose.

This ability means that our choices have eternal meaning, and that the Good we do is not just a forced choice made by a domineering God, but instead, is a joyful and grateful response to God's love.

The Hebrew Bible is filled with examples of God giving us a free will and the freedom to choose. The story of Adam and Eve is all about our Free Will and ability to choose, and the Jewish people have always understood it that way.
Adam's poor choice didn't damage his children's, nor his descendants' ability to choose right from wrong. God is portrayed in Genesis as telling Adam's own son, Cain, that he had the freedom (and the duty) to do right or to do wrong, and to take the consequences of either choice. That, alone, ruins the concept of our alleged "moral inability" to do good, because of Adam's Sin.

King David is shown in scripture as sinning and doing evil deeds, but he repented, and God forgave him. He says in the Psalms that he stood after his repentance before God with clean hands and with righteous actions.

Isaiah teaches that we are to wash ourselves and make ourselves clean. If we are totally unable to do good, then what could this possibly mean?

Therefore, it is abundantly clear that the Hebrew scriptures teach nothing else except that we have the ability to act and to do good, and that we are commanded by God, our Creator, to do exactly that.

Jesus, also, teaches us that God wishes us to have willing hearts and to follow the path of righteousness through our actions.

We are, like King David, fully able to repent of our past mistakes, and to stop doing them, as in the story of the woman caught in adultery demonstrates. Jesus said, "Go, and sin no more." No radical surgery was required of her, simply a determination to repent to do good, instead. Radical action was required of her - and she was able to do it.

The kingdom of God is built through our deliberate righteous actions and good works done in accordance with the teachings of our Master, Jesus.

So, we see that the minister's foolish statement about "radical surgery" is another theological falsehood. While our wills may have been damaged by our past actions, that can no way mean that we have no ability to turn our lives around by reaching out to God and repenting. Jesus teaches that all may repent, and indeed must repent, of past mistakes, which are a falling short of the high standards God wishes for all of us.

And again, all the Hebrew Prophets and Jesus taught that sincere repentance is all that is required of us to begin turning our lives around toward godliness.

The Gospel that Jesus preached is a challenge to reach our full potential - how God wishes us to live our lives. The fact that many do not know that the Gospel is a challenge, and are unaware that Jesus' Gospel is fully contained in his words, doesn't make them criminals sentenced to death eternally. 

Instead, it makes them imperfect, because they are, our of ignorance, not following God's perfect path of righteousness. This ignorance is because wicked ministers have not taught them this Truth.

Those who are living imperfect lives don't need radical surgery as much as they need a radical reassessment of their lives. And they should be informed at that there is a better way: to live their lives in accordance with God's will. 

And those who are living an easy faith without challenge, who believe that good works are impossible (or something that we need not even concern ourselves with) fall grossly short of Jesus' teachings, often warping them beyond all recognition, or worse, ignoring or minimizing them.
These ministers, and their flocks, perhaps need a radical new faith, based on the challenging, joyful teachings of our Master, Jesus, who says emphatically that we are capable of doing all that he asks us to do and that we may do all that he has done. THAT is the True Gospel message. It is one worth sharing.

Knowing that Jesus pleased God in every way, and said that we may do the same, shows that God and the one He chose as our example have far higher confidence in us human beings then many ministers do.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Parable Of The Prodigal Son Calls Us To Change Our Ways #JesusFollowers


The story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24) like many of the parables of Jesus, isn't preached much anymore, and there are some reasons for that. 

The story, if you've forgotten it, is about a man with two sons, the elder son who was righteous and the younger one who left the path of righteousness, but later returned.

The unrighteous son demanded his part of the inheritance, and left his father and brother to live in another city. There, the prodigal son squandered it all in reckless living (prodigal, meaning one who spends recklessly.) Coming to his senses, he returned, humbly, to his father's house, and was welcomed back with open arms by his father, who rejoiced at his return. 
 
The parable, of course, is about repentance and returning to our Heavenly Father, who will forgive all who turn back to Him. 

  
Jesus was sent by his Father (who is also OUR Father) and we, the younger son, are being called to respond like the Prodigal Son did – with repentance and humility, returning to the Father and begging for forgiveness. God will forgive our sins, but we must first act upon His calling and His offer to receive us again with open arms. Without repentance, there is no forgiveness, nor is there eternal salvation. 
 
Jesus was sent to call the Prodigals among us back to repentance. We are all called to plead on the Father’s behalf, urging all Prodigal sons (and daughters) to return to righteousness. 

 
It is important to understand that Jesus, who was chosen and adopted by God and sent out to be His spokesman and prophet, commanded us to be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Jesus calls us to pursue righteousness, to do Good Works in the name of God, Whom we should love with our entire being, and to love and serve our neighbors exactly as we love ourselves.


We must take him at his word. He was not “joking” with us or teasing us as if we could never do what he commanded. We are literally being called to not live like the Prodigal Son, recklessly and without the need to do good and righteous Works. 
 
This parable Jesus is somewhat unpopular with preachers, and with their flocks, because it does not allow us to ever throw our hands up in despair, claiming we cannot do the Good Works and live the righteous life we are commanded to live. Nor are we allowed to vainly throw rags of praise at God while failing to seek the righteousness His Son calls us to seek.  


That the older son in the story remained faithful to the father proves that we may indeed obey God in righteousness. It is an easily-missed part of this story that shows that it can be done. Those who are not ill do not require a physician. 

 
Jesus tells us that we are morally able to do Good Works, and that those among us who have become ill by living unrighteously need to seek a physician by returning to the Father. 


There, in the house of the Father, we will be accepted with open arms. 



Art: The Return of the Prodigal Son; Francesco Bassano the Younger (1559-1592)