Sunday, November 18, 2018

Let's Be Thankful For The Gifts God's Given Us! #JesusFollowers


God has implanted within us original feelings of reverence, of gratitude, of kindness, and of love. He freely grants us all that we need, and more, to love both Him and others, then asks us to use these gifts.

If we revere God, we will conform our lives to God's moral commandments, which lead us to both gratitude, and holiness.

If we live lives of gratitude for all that God has given us, we live in unity with God and with others.

If we are kind to others, we model and grow into the life that God wishes us to have.

If we love God with all that we have within us, God assures us that our time with Him is eternal.

God has chosen and sent Jesus as a spokesman to call us to bring out these gifts from within us, and let all of them blossom in our lives. When we act upon them, they blossom also in the lives of others.

We are never left without the God, Whom Jesus calls "Father." The God of Jesus, and for us, is truly a Father who cares for His children.

The Wisdom of God is always available, at the end of a prayer to our Heavenly Father. Whenever we lack wisdom, God freely grants more of it to us. God’s wisdom can be found in the teachings of the Hebrew Prophets and in the words and example of Jesus. Wisdom is found in the example set by those who are seeking holiness today.

Our souls find refreshment in God, and are renewed by His eternal presence. We can stand in God’s presence at any time, in any place. When we walk with God in our darkest hour, He comforts us.

An attitude of prayer, gratitude and reverence puts us before the Throne of God wherever we are. No priest, no building, no ritual is required for us to have God embrace us daily.

If God did not love us and want us to become Spiritually Complete, He would not have sent us Prophets, would not have guided us with their words, and would not offer to grant us unending Wisdom whenever we asked for it.

Wisdom, knowledge, and understanding of God’s will all come from God, as do love and the path of Good Works.

God's wisdom is fully embodied in the message life and death of Jesus, who gives us a complete and perfect example of a life lived fully for God.

Jesus, a man like us, grew in wisdom and stature, prayed consistently to his God, and did not stray from God's commandments. Jesus challenged others to live just as he lived. That we may take up Jesus’ challenge and accomplish it is the GOOD NEWS of the Gospel.

We are weak, and grow tired, and often feel like giving up. But if we keep our eyes focused on the example of Jesus, and the love of God, we will have all we need to spiritually grow and flourish.

God surely doesn't give up on US, weak as we are. God granted us strong spirits, gave us the example of Jesus, and gives ongoing strength and Wisdom when we ask Him for more.

So let us give back in gratitude all we have been given, and let us to continue striving towards Spiritual completeness. We must not give up serving God and living as He intends us to live!

Sunday, November 11, 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, November 4, 2018

The Gospel Of #Jesus Is A Challenge To Serve Others #JesusFollowers


In his ministry, Jesus challenged all those around him.

He challenged the religious authorities who led a faith of empty ritual and mindless words to instead embrace an authentic faith of love and devotion.

He challenged the wealthy to give up the idol of money.

He challenged those who would exclude the weak, the poor, the “outcast” and the outsider to be fully inclusive, because God loves all people equally. (Luke 4:12-13)

And Jesus challenged average people to “come, follow me,” and change the world with their works of Righteousness. (Matt. 4:19)

Jesus’ teachings, when seen as the core of his ministry, challenge us today, as well.

In fact, the Good News that Jesus preached is nothing but a challenge to our comfortable lives. It challenges the lazy faith which is based on mere words and devoid of love of others or Good Works on their behalf.

It’s a challenge to us all, individually, to begin to reach our full potential, by living the way God wishes us to live – lives of selfless service and love.

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

Jesus preached to challenge us, and calls us today to live as examples in his name. As God’s chosen Spokesman, Jesus authoritatively calls us to take up his challenge and to follow his example.  (John 13:15; 14:12)

We are called by Jesus to seek and do Good, in order to advance God’s Kingdom on this earth.

Jesus lived, taught and died as a pure moral example for us, so that we should follow him and be made perfect in Righteousness. We do this with God’s help and a reliance on God’s holy Spirit.

And we are required, on this journey of Faith, to always seek God's forgiveness for our faults and failures as we strive towards the perfect expression of Righteousness God's Anointed Son, Jesus, has modeled for us.

We must seek to follow Jesus in ALL his teachings – because Jesus followed God in ALL things, and said we could do all that he had done. (John 8:29; 12:50; 13:15; 1 John 2:6)

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.

Jesus clearly calls us to an active Faith - a Faith that Works. His teachings, his Gospel, is a challenge worth accepting and worth LIVING, because it leads to directly to a spiritually complete life and, God willing, to eternal life with our Creator.

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 weak emotionalism.

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

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 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.)

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

Jesus calls on us to let our Good Deeds shine like lights in this world, so that others will see by that light the goodness and love of our Father and Creator, which He has placed within us all. (Matt. 5:15-16)

And 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.

When we encounter what is being claimed to be “the Gospel,” if it fails to challenge us to pursue Good Works, we know that it's a false and easy Faith we've encountered – a wide gate, rather than the Gospel preached from the very mouth of Jesus.

That Jesus challenges us with incredibly high goals is undeniable. That he believed we could achieve them is proven by his words. And because Jesus, a human being like us, has done this, we are assured that we, too, may accomplish God’s will for our lives.

So let’s take up the Good News of Jesus’ challenge in our lives and let it shine within us for all to see!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

#Jesus Challenged Religious Leaders To Reform; We Must, Too! #JesusFollowers


The religious figures of Jesus’ day had it all figured out. They knew the religious system and the religious buzzwords inside and out. They could spout bits of Scripture to prove everything he said was wrong. They called him a “heretic” and worse: one who speaks evil against God.

Jesus’ preaching challenged the doctrines of religious leaders, plainly telling them they were wrong, and that they needed to rethink their beliefs and practices.

It was no longer just enough to SEEM to be doing God’s will, one must actually DO it, he said.

It was not enough to SEEM to be pious, praying publicly with long prayers and fancy words. One must actually BE pious, and do much of it in private.

Intentions mattered as much as outward appearances, said Jesus. And the motives of the heart, which give birth to actions, are important to control (and CAN be controlled) and turned towards Righteousness, so that our actions will also be Righteous.

But it is never easy to challenge religious ideas - especially long-cherished ones. It can hurt feelings and brings great anger.

Yet, Jesus was often blunt, and he knew that he would be met with great anger and even death. And so he was. And in three days, God took Jesus back.

But soon after his death and return to God, others came – as Jesus had predicted – with a different Message, one that was easier, less Godly, and less powerful and challenging to authority.

They called on people to believe special things about his death, but to not worry too much about his teachings and life.

They told people that Jesus wasn’t REALLY calling for us to perform Righteous Works, because we are not capable of them.

God, they claimed, at his own good pleasure, doles out the strength we need in order to do the Good Works, then rewards us for doing what He did through us.

And they elevated Jesus to equality with God, so that he could be admired, and worshiped, but not imitated.

Thus, they put Jesus out of reach, out of touch, and out of our minds as a perfect example to follow, and the Dark Ages and “reformation” which followed did nothing to bring the original Jesus back.

Today, the story that was once powerful and universal is powerful in numbers and wealth, but is almost universally arrogant and prideful.

Shockingly, Christendom today promotes a “Wide Gate” of easily-obtainable eternal salvation at the drop of a check, after spouting an unbiblical, simple prayer.

Much of Christendom – particularly PROTESTANT Christendom – teaches that we may, without repentance or Good Works, and with only a few magic words, steal from God the salvation promised through His messenger, even though Jesus told us that this was available to us ONLY if we repented and worked Righteousness.

A movement - a "Reformation" - that started off with such promise, but gained earthly power and dominance at the cost of its soul, is in need of a fuller, more complete Reformation.

A message that originally was a clear, simple call to greatness through perfect Love and a call to serve God and other people through complete self-sacrifice stands in desperate need of renewal.

What is easy to purchase with a quick prayer and a promise of wealth must be rejected and confronted as false and contrary to Jesus’ express teachings.

What is incomprehensible and man-made must be stripped off like a layer of suffocating paint, so the original Truths of Jesus may shine through and breathe again.

What became large and lethargic must become again humble and holy, less demeaning and more dynamic in its evaluation of what we, as God’s creatures are both called to do and capable of doing for others and our Creator, God.

Today, as we embark once again on the Way Jesus preached, we must also dare to boldly question today's religious leaders' long-held, man-made beliefs, as well as some even less attractive alternatives which call us to look inward and serve only ourselves. 

We must do the hard work of discerning God’s will for our lives and re-learning Jesus’ true message. In other words: we must keep Reforming!

Like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, today’s religious leaders are not going to be very happy about being challenged, either. 

But we owe it to God and the one whom God sent to us – the man, Jesus, our Master – to become merely Jesus Followers and servants of God once again.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Is Jesus Your Friend? #JesusFollowers


All of us on Facebook have had a notification pop up, telling us that someone wishes to be our "Facebook friend."

We might notice that they might be a friend of a mutual friend already, and quickly accept their friend request, honored that they have made the connection with us, or that they like our posts.

We all have seen someone on the street with whom we went to grade school or High School. After speaking with them, we may be asked, "Who was that?" And we might reply, "That was a friend from school."

But by "friend," we likely mean that this is someone we happened to know by face or by reputation when we were in school with them. Or, this might actually have been a friend in the sense that you both were extremely close, and shared a circle of other friends with whom you were very close.

So with these examples, we begin to see very quickly that the word "friend" in the English language can mean different things.

Knowing this, what would it mean for someone to say that Jesus is their friend? On the surface, we knew instinctively that the word "friend" doesn't seem to be a strong enough word in relation to our master, Jesus.

"Of course he is our friend," we might say to ourselves, "and much more." If so, we'd be on the right track.

When Jesus himself used the word "friend," he meant it in an altogether more important and stronger way then we casually use it today.

For example, when Jesus was beginning to speak about how he was going to be put to death by those who were in authority in ancient Judea, he told his disciples:
"Greater love has no man than this: to lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)

While we all have friends that we care for us, there are very few, maybe even none, for which we would easily and quickly give up our lives.

Jesus, of course gave up his life, not just on the cross, but throughout his ministry, on behalf of all who heard and followed him, and for all who would follow him, both then and now.

Jesus made this crystal clear when he went on to say, "You are my friends IF you do what I command you." (15:14)

Jesus, therefore, puts upon those who claim friendship with him the responsibility to follow what he's saying with action. 

It is at this point, that many modern Christian preachers would take issue with Jesus. They claim instead that mere belief in the "person" of Jesus, not his teachings, is what can grant us eternity with God. They might claim that his teachings cannot be followed, and that we are unable to do any of the things Jesus did, and have no requirement to attempt to follow those teachings.

But Jesus actually says the opposite. In fact, he is very clear and precise in his teachings, noting:
1 - That following him has costs, responsibilities, and requires obedience, and
2 - That he believes we CAN DO all that he commanded us

Indeed, Jesus says, "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from My Father I have made known to you."

And he clearly teaches that we must seek to obey God's moral commandments if we hope to spend eternity with God (Matt. 10:17, 19)

Further, he says we will do even greater things than he did on earth (John 14:12) and,  "I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you." (John 13:15) Does this sound like an impossible mission he's given us?

The example shown by the teachings of Jesus, of course, was Love - pure, unadulterated, uncluttered, unfiltered love. We are called to love one another, love and serve our neighbors, love our enemies, love and have compassion on those in distress, and love God, our Creator, Who is the focus of all our love and gratitude.

This "yoke" - his teachings - he calls for us to learn from him (Matt. 11:29) and he says it would NOT be a burden, as the barren rituals of the Pharisees had been. (Matt. 11:30; 23:4) If his teachings are not even a burden, they are surely not impossible.

The bottom line is that those who claim to love him will seek to obey his teachings and put them into practice daily, as if they were taking up a cross. (Matt. 16:24) When we put all of his sayings together, they form a remarkably clear and consistent message.

We learn that Jesus said that he was dying an example to his friends, just as his life had been such an example, and that he considered his friends those who obeyed his teachings. Finally, he made it clear that his friends would be able to do all he commanded.

The Good News we hear from the lips of Jesus is truly GOOD, in that it tells us that through the life, teachings and example for God's chosen one, GOD BELIEVES IN US and has given us high standards to achieve.

The Creator Who said "be holy, as I am holy," (Lev. 11:45) and the teacher who called us to be complete just as God is complete (Matt. 5:48) both know of what we are capable.

This same Creator endowed us with gifts, abilities and knowledge that allow us to choose the Good, but also to choose what is evil. It is in rejecting what is evil, repenting of it, and actively choosing the Good that we are considered Righteous by God.

Simply reading the teachings of Jesus puts friendship with him in an entirely new light. If we claim to be his friend, then we will surely make an effort to seek to follow his teachings, and when we stumble in our efforts, Jesus tells us that when the Righteous repent, we will be forgiven by a just and merciful God. (Matt. 6:12; 18:27)

Indeed, in his Great Commission, Jesus called those who followed him to go out into the world telling people to obey ALL that he taught them. (Matt. 28:20)

It's clear from all of these sayings of Jesus, that he believed friendship with him was intimately tied to following his teachings.

When Jesus says "Take up your cross daily and follow me," (Matt. 16:24) he's calling us to join him on a journey of joyful obedience, love, and service, one just as he embarked upon. That, to Jesus, is true friendship!

But if we do not follow his words, if we claim they are too hard, or not necessary, or not relevant for us today, then we are not really following Jesus, but other men's teachings. In fact, we hate him if we reject, warp or minimize his teachings.

If we make up excuses for not obeying his call for us to love and serve others with our Works, we are not worthy of his name. This fully and completely human Jesus that God chose as our example and Master is meant to be followed, not just admired.

If we are truly to be called his friends, as well as his disciples today, we will seek to put the teachings of Jesus at the center of our Lives every day. We can do no less, if we call ourselves Jesus Followers!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

We are Saved by Following the Example of Jesus! #JesusFollowers


Jesus' idea of salvation centers in his idea of God. His most characteristic description of God is as the bountiful Giver. With a liberal hand God pours out His blessings upon all people.

His love is large and generous. He is ready and eager to bestow His gifts. This impulse to give and to bless springs from God's boundless, universal love.

Jesus' favorite expression for this aspect of God's character is the term “Father.” As the Father, He loves and blesses all people - even His disobedient and sinful children. He yearns for the lost son and waits and watches for his return; He continues to love those who are indifferent, or even hostile, to His will, and sends His Son to seek and to save them.

Salvation means a life corresponding to this character of God. Jesus expressed it by the phrase "becoming sons of the Father" (Matt. 5:45.) Sonship in the Jewish mode of thought denotes moral kinship and likeness.

Jesus presented a view of God designed to move the heart to penitence for sin and to gratitude and obedience. He set the highest value on small deeds, if done from love or compassion.

Jesus illustrates in detail the elements which constitute this true righteousness or salvation. They are: humility, meekness, aspiration after goodness, mercifulness, purity, and peacemaking. These qualities constitute that real righteousness which is the passport into the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 5:3-9, 20.)

The man who fulfilled Jesus' law of neighbor love was he, social outcast though he was, who ministered to the poor sufferer at the roadside (Luke 10:36, 37.)

The first and great commandment, which summarizes the whole import of the law and the prophets, is the law of love. In comparison with the requirements of this law, all sacrifices and other religious ceremonies are of little consequence.

Love is the law because it is the principle of God's own moral perfection. God’s requirements are grounded in His nature.

The life of love is the Godlike life, the life of sonship; it makes us members of the Kingdom of Heaven; it IS salvation.

This teaching of Jesus does not minimize the requirements of holiness. If the statement of it appears to do so, this is due to the fact that Jesus does not separate righteousness from love, as later thought has done. To him these are never contrasting and rival terms.

What, then, must a person do in order to be saved? They must repent of sins and forsake them. The first word in Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom was, "Repent" (Mk. 1:15). But not only must we repent; we must turn (Mt. 18:3) — turn away from the old life, and in humility and self-surrender take up the life of obedience to God. Our Master’s descriptions of the conditions of salvation are not abstract and formal, but concrete and realistic.

It lay within the power of the erring son to forsake his evil life and escape his sinfulness by returning to his Father with a penitent and obedient heart.

When one recalls the complicated theological discussions of Salvation, the teaching of Jesus on the subject does seem, in comparison, very simple.

That’s because popular theological terminology for the subject is derived more from the language of others than from Jesus himself. Jesus did not analyze the process of attaining salvation, nor define its various steps and stages. He simply pictured the Father's house as standing open, and the Father's heart as ready and waiting to receive the wandering, lost son.

Jesus calls sinners to repent. He demands moral purity, humility, charitableness, and kindred virtues, and does not hesitate to require "good works" in one who wishes to glorify the Father in Heaven (Matt. 5:16.) In one place he declares that only one who does the will of God can enter His Kingdom, and elsewhere he prescribes the law of service as the law of that Kingdom.

When we further observe that he conceives his own mission as a mission to serve humanity, we realize one of his saving works was to induce us, by example and influence, to live the Godlike life of self-giving, in which our true greatness and glory are found.

Jesus saw his teaching and example as saving in their effect upon us. He sought by these to strengthen in us the desires and efforts for a better life - the life of sonship to God.

The life of Jesus, with its various expressions of itself in word and act, was a powerful saving agency in his time, and still remains so. The teaching of Jesus gives us no warrant to speak flippantly, as is commonly done, of his "mere" example.

Theology rarely takes time to mention the saving power of the personal influence of Jesus.

But let us not minimize by silence or by qualifying words what Jesus placed in the very forefront of his message to humanity: the declaration that the door of God's Kingdom stood open before them that they might enter then and there if they would, and that he had come to show them the way.

Jesus says: I am the world's light; by me you can know the Father, God's Kingdom is in your midst - by such words as these Jesus announced a present salvation, available at this moment, and himself as the guide to its realization.

Adapted from “The Christian Doctrine of Salvation” (1917) by George Barker Stevens

Sunday, October 7, 2018

God's Unlimited Mercy! #JesusFollowers


Jesus spoke frequently of God's mercy, forgiveness and our need for repentance. No story in the Hebrew Scriptures better illustrates this than the story of Jonah.

Jonah the Prophet was sent by God to Nineveh, to call on them to forsake their evil ways and repent. Jonah (after famously fleeing and being brought back on track by a whale) does as he is commanded and Nineveh actually repents, turning to God in true and genuine repentance, seeking forgiveness for their sins.

In this parable of God's mercy, Jonah, now a successful prophet, is furious with God, because he believes he was made to look like a chump for calling down God's wrath. He complains to God that, "I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" and that he KNEW that God would be merciful to them if they repented from their sins (Jonah 4:1.) And Jonah was correct.

The story of Jonah, like the ministry of Jesus, illustrates God's unlimited mercy and forgiveness. Both are available to us when we repent of our sins and choose to follow God's path of Righteousness instead.

Jesus refers to Nineveh and their repentance during his ministry, saying, "The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment and condemn the people living today, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah. But look, something greater than Jonah is here!" (Luke 11:30.)

The men of Nineveh were held up by Jesus as examples for those in Judea who were acting in unrighteous ways.

God asks Jonah after his outburst, "Is it right for you to be angry?" (4:4) And it's a good question, and one that's still relevant. Because like Jonah, some modern Christian leaders are very angry with God for being too generous with His mercy and forgiveness.

And yet, God has mercy on those whom HE chooses to have mercy. James writes, "Mercy triumphs over judgment." (James 2:13)

The truth is, God is not bound by OUR ideas of Justice and Condemnation. In this sense, God's ways are surely not OUR ways.

While we may decide that some people do not deserve God's mercy, and must first "pay a price" for falling short of His high standards, God does not condemn based on our whims or theories about who is "in" and who is "out" of his loving embrace, either now or eternally.

And in the same way, one minor flaw in our character, one falling short of God's perfect way does not condemn us to eternal separation from God, as some today would imagine it. Jesus says we are forgiven when we repent and turn back to God, just as all the Hebrew Prophets before him promised.

"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7) Isaiah told the children of Israel to turn back to God, against Whom they had deeply and greatly revolted (Isaiah 31:6.)

The wisdom of God is that we may forsake our sins and repent, then we will find God's mercy waiting for us (Prov. 28:13.) And if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9.)

What does God require of us? Mercy. Jesus says those who seek mercy shall have it (Matt. 5:7) and in turn we are called to "Be merciful" just as our Father in Heaven is merciful. And as we are forgiven and receive mercy, we are called upon to forgive others and have mercy upon others (Luke 6:36-37.)

But wait - can God just show mercy to us - without retribution or payment? Just like that? Yes.

God isn't the elected leader of a government we created, nor is He bound by rules we think He must follow. No one should say, "God cannot show mercy because He is bound be laws to be unmerciful." or, "We must pay a price before we get mercy from God." No, God's mercy transcends His judgment, when we repent with a pure heart and genuineness. All the Hebrew Scriptures and our Master, Jesus, testify clearly to the wonderful Truth that God's mercy is unlimited.

God requires nothing but our genuine repentance to "earn" his mercy. "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," God tells Moses. "And I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." (Ex. 33:19)

The Hebrew Bible, consistent with the teachings of Jesus, tells us we may ALL return to God when we forsake evil and turn back to God's holy path of Righteous living.

Hosea and Jesus both inform us that God requires "mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:6; Matt. 9:13; Matt. 12:7) The Prophet Micah says we are to "love Mercy" (6:6)

We are blessed to know a God Who does not curse us with other's sins, and Who freely grants mercy to the repentant!

King David writes: "When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long." But, "I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD GOD,' and You forgave the iniquity of my sin." (Psalm 32.)

Having received the mercy of God, we are called by our Master, Jesus to show mercy to others. 

We show in our service to others - the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the homeless, the destitute and the suffering - that we understand what God's mercy means to us. And because we have the example of this man, Jesus, who achieved God's Standard of excellence, we know we are capable of doing what God asks of us.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

A Faith in Jesus That Challenges Us to Be Better! #JesusFollowers


A few years ago, a young man named Jefferson Bethke posted a video on YouTube and later followed it up with a book, “Jesus [is greater than] Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough.” He was wrong on all counts.

The urge to simply have faith and then do nothing is very alluring and seductive. The urge to make excuses for our inability to serve God as Jesus calls us to do is very strong, and it’s a very old message indeed. But it’s a call to half-serve God, and it’s a repudiation of the message God called and anointed Jesus to preach to all humanity.

If you are not actively seeking to walk as Jesus walked, you are not a follower of Jesus. You may be an admirer of Jesus, or a flatterer of Jesus, but not a follower. Jesus calls us to a life of struggle and service, not a life of shallow words and false phrases. He challenges us to be better than we are, not remain as we were before we met him.

"Come just as you are" to Jesus. But expect to change and be changed by his words, life and example. He was meant to be followed, not just admired - he urged us to obey God, not to simply shower him with flattery.

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

Jesus' call for us to count the costs, then pick up a cross, go the extra mile, expand our 'talents' to serve others, and being the Good Samaritan cannot have meant for us to seek a life of leisure and ease. It's a call to action. If we say we love Jesus, but don't hear what he says, we've built our lives on shifting sands, not the Rock of his Words.

The Gospel that Jesus explicitly taught isn't a call to merely have belief in him, but it's a call to serve God, to follow Jesus' teachings, to love others just as we love ourselves. His Gospel calls us to serve and act, not sit and contemplate, nor to simply admire Jesus or even to worship him.

And since there is deep confusion among Christians today (sown by folks like Mr. Bethke) let there be no mistake: We are equipped from birth by God to begin the works Jesus calls us to accomplish. We have the ability to recognize Truth, the ability to know right from wrong, to do Good, and to serve others, as Jesus calls us to do. 

When we repent of our sins, and commit to stop sinning and serve God, then our Heavenly Father will equip us further with wisdom, with hope, with courage and with the strength to endure anything.

If we fail to grasp the simple, clear and profound message of Jesus, we will have fallen prey to the error of "easy believism"  - the wide road that leads to a failed and worthless faith, rather than a fulfilling one that actively fills the world with love, hope and light.

Anyone calling us to a faith of easy belief, of a faith without Works, of emotion without action, of a hope of Heavenly rewards without our hands engaged in helping others, is calling us to "another Gospel" that is false, and "another Christ" who is an imitation of the original Jesus.

The clear, challenging religion of Jesus that he first preached is far superior and far more profound and Godly than all the superstitions, mythologies, complexities and unimaginable nonsense men have attached to it ever since. It's time to return to Following Jesus and serving Jesus' God in spirit and in truth.

A faith that fails to challenge us to bold, radical service isn't worth having. A free gift is worthless if it's never open and used as it was designed. Jesus offers us such a faith, such a gift, if we would only open it and act upon it.

Let us, then, act.

Sunday, September 23, 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, adopted 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, 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!