Sunday, August 18, 2019

What's Our Purpose In Life? To Do Great Things! #JesusFollowers


Why are we here on the earth? What is our purpose in this life? For millions, these questions haunt their existence and trouble their souls. But there is a Way we can follow that answers these questions. For those who call Jesus their Master, and seek to follow him and his path, the answers come easier.

WHAT should we do with our lives? Jesus tells us that we're here to love God and love others, and serve God and serve others.

Jesus said we should seek to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit those in prison, and comfort the widow and orphan. (Matt. 25)

HOW do we do this? We can begin by doing it by committing ourselves and then... by starting to do what God calls us to do through His chosen Son, Jesus. By Repenting - committing to that kind of change, and asking God for forgiveness for past misdeeds and lack of love we've shown - that starts this process.

This isn't a throw away line, and this LOVE - Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves - isn't the same weak "love" we use to tell others that we "love" chocolate, or salsa. It's a deep, complicated love, and it will take a lifetime to perfect.

A final question is CAN we do this? This level of service and love, for some, doesn't come easy. But we can be assured that we have the ability within us to do what is right and what is good because God says we can do it, and created us with the ability to do all that He asks of us.

We can find verification of God's expectations for humanity by looking to the Hebrew Scriptures.

God told Adam, the proverbial first man, that he could do what was right. He later told Adam's son, Cain, that he could do what was right, too, if he chose to do so.

Both Adam and Cain had the inborn freedom to choose. The fact that in these cases they both chose to do what was wrong with their choice means they, alone, were punished for it.

Perhaps that is why these stories were included in the Hebrew Bible, so we would know that we had a true choice.

In Deuteronomy, we learn that God assures human beings that His commandments are, "not too hard for you," and that God's moral law is "is in your mouth and in your heart, SO THAT YOU CAN DO IT." (Deut. 30:11, 14) Isaiah writes, "Wash yourselves, make yourself clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do well." (1:16)

Isaiah also has no doubt that human beings can, "cease to do evil, and learn to do good."

And many have read the verse in Joshua, in which he says, "choose this day whom you will serve," (Joshua 24:15) The choice remains with us to choose to serve God.

Jesus is completely consistent with the Hebrew Bible in his belief in our ability to do what God asks.

Our Teacher and Master said he did all things that pleased God (John 8:28). He also said we could do all that he did, telling us that we are to be "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (John 14:12, Matt. 5:48)

If we need courage and encouragement to serve others, we should start by reflecting on the gifts we've been given by God, our Creator, including the inspiring, perfect moral life of Jesus, and seek to follow that path perfectly, seeking God's forgiveness when we stumble.

Jesus taught that if we call him our Master, we must seek to follow him, doing all that he had done. (John 13:15; 1 John 2:4-6) Based on his teachings, we definitely have the ability to do great good, if we choose to take up his path and seek to do Righteousness, as he did. It's the choosing that can be hard sometimes, and we will stumble in our efforts, but that does not diminish our ability to do the good, which is God-given.

Just as Jesus frequently did, we may call upon God in prayer for further strength, and be assured that we may obtain it. As James, his brother, wrote, we can always seek greater wisdom from God. (James 1:5)

So, Jesus said we were able to do what was right. He believed that God gave us the ability to stand tall before Him, with willing hands to serve others and bring forth God's Kingdom here on earth.

It only remains for us to pick up the challenge Jesus lays down for us, and begin doing good in his name.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

#Jesus' Words - Was He Just Mocking Us? #JesusFollowers

The book of Matthew (chapters 5 through 7) records Jesus’ words in a well-known series of chapters known as the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus went up on a small hill and began preaching, and what he said amazed the assembled crowd who heard it.

It amazes us, still.

Jesus’ teachings were both shocking and clear to those who heard them; startling statements meant to both spiritually awaken and challenge us to action.

He started by teaching about the character that God wishes us to have. In these “beatitudes,” Jesus assures us that God sends blessings of comfort, hope, healing, love, and strength, and that God expects us to share these blessings with others.

Jesus calls us to become both salt and light – spiritually enriching the world by being great moral examples to it - and says that we can do this by humbly performing righteous deeds. Our attitudes towards oaths, marriage and even our dealings with our enemies, he says, ought to be guided by extremely high ideals, not by shallow obedience alone.

But just because this challenging sermon IS so challenging, some scholars and churchmen throughout history have questioned whether it REALLY should be taken seriously by us at all.

For example, some have claimed that Jesus' teachings in this Sermon were not meant to be followed, but instead, his intention was to merely show us what we COULD NEVER accomplish, because all human beings are too corrupted to obey his teachings.

When Jesus said we should avoid even thinking of committing adultery - an act that is one of God's Ten Commandments to Moses - they claim that we couldn't possibly avoid thinking of such a thing. Therefore, they assert, Jesus was teaching that human beings couldn't possibly do what he was asking.

But to believe this would make Jesus a mean-spirited, cynical teacher. And indeed, most who believe this way don't see him as much of a teacher at all, but as someone who’s just mocking (or "convicting") us by spouting high ideals that are beyond our ability to obey.

This kind of teacher would seem mean and sadistic in a classroom, and insane standing on a hill claiming to be a religious Teacher from God.

A teacher who would mock us by teaching what we cannot follow (and then teach that we'd be punished by God if we didn't!) would be the worst of all teachers, and certainly not a prophet sent from God.

Of course, Jesus, our God-anointed Master, never said his teachings were impossible to follow, so we can reject this interpretation. He said, "follow me," and "obey my teachings," and "let your light shine before others."

It's reasonable to take Jesus at his word, that he wants us to strive for even higher ideals than simply not cheating on one's spouse. He calls us to purify even our thoughts, not just our outward deeds.

This is consistent with his other teachings, in which he condemns the Judean religious teachers known as the Pharisees for having an outward appearance of goodness, like "a whitewashed tomb" he said, but inside, their minds were full of corruption and evil. This imagery clearly illustrates what he means by his teachings on the Mount, and elsewhere.

We start the process of committing a sin by thinking about it, and dwelling upon it. Jesus knew this, and warned us to guard our thoughts just as we are to guard our actions.

"Out of the good treasure of our hearts," put there by our thoughts, come goodness in the form of good works that serve others and please God.

We can be assured that Jesus meant what he taught at face value, and when he says that we can become morally and spiritually complete, and that we can do all the he did during his ministry, we can rest easy knowing that he is not lying to us or mocking us.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Truly Transformed by #Jesus! #JesusFollowers


The message Jesus taught during his ministry is an active and revolutionary call to action for the human race.

Jesus calls us to do good works, to become more holy people, to act in righteousness, and to serve others first.

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

Yet many who claim the name of Jesus do not believe we must do the "good works" that Jesus himself calls us to do.

Relying on the teachings of later men, many believe they can achieve righteousness by merely calling themselves righteous. But of course, Jesus called out the Pharisees for doing just that!

To deny that Jesus taught a Gospel of Good Works and active service is to deny his Gospel entirely. Doing good on behalf of others stands at the very core of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God that Jesus preached.

God chose Jesus to be our model and example, not as a cold, unapproachable idol to be worshiped from afar. Instead, God chose and sent Jesus out into the world to show us by word and deed how we should live Godly lives.

Many believe they have been transformed by Jesus, but if they remain inactive, resting on their "salvation" through their mere words and an emotional utterance of their lips, they were probably not transformed at all, and their faith is a self-delusion.

Let's be clear: Our lives cannot be transformed by merely admiring Jesus. His goodness cannot magically be transferred into us just by pretending it has been. To claim this makes a mockery of Jesus' call to actively FOLLOW him in serving God and others in God's name.

To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, comfort those in distress - these cannot be done by merely feeling smug about our "personal salvation." Saying "go forth and be warmed, be clothed" is to spit on Jesus' Gospel and laugh in the face of the God who sent him to preach it.

To be transformed by Jesus is to be called to action by him, and to heed that call. His example, his message, his Gospel, is what transforms our lives and the lives of those around us. We rely on the example of Jesus and the ongoing inspiration and assistance of God's Spirit to transform us and make our lives spiritually complete.

We are transformed by Jesus only when we go from inactive self-assurance to active service of others. 

We are transformed by Jesus when we actively love God and demonstrate that by actively serving and loving our neighbors just as we love ourselves, as God's anointed one taught us to do.

If we call ourselves by his name, we ought to walk as he himself walked, becoming in our daily lives the very model of his righteousness in all that we do. Let us allow our acts shine like a light in a world desperate for our example.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

What #Jesus Teaches Us About Driving A Car #JesusFollowers


Our Master, Jesus, lived nearly 2,000 years before the invention of the automobile, the laptop computer, the internet, and television.

Despite this, there is much Jesus can teach us today about how we should conduct our lives in the modern world - IF we have the courage and faith to listen and follow his teachings.

Driving a car in today's world can be a traumatic experience. Everyone is seemingly in a rush to get somewhere, and are solely focused on that goal alone.  Many drivers become overly aggressive in their quest to "be first" - to the next light or to their home or office. Perhaps that's how we feel, too, sometimes when we're on the road.

But Jesus teaches us a different way to conduct our lives than the rest of the world. If we take his teachings seriously, as if they were meant for us today (and we always should) then we will find ways in which his ancient an eternal words apply to us these many years after he first spoke.

Let's look one by one at some core teachings of Jesus that can be applied to our daily commute.

As Jesus summarized the Law as "Love your neighbor as yourself," (along with Love God with all our hearts, mind, strength and soul - Matt. 22:39) all of our lessons relating to driving can be summed up in this way, too.

When driving, the cars around you are our neighbors. They literally, if momentarily, reside around us and next to us. In every way possible, we should treat them as neighbors in need of our love - and as Jesus Followers, ones who are entitled to it.

"In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you." (Matt. 7:12) This well known, "Do unto others" teaching of Jesus applies to all aspects of our life. When we spend so many hours of our lives in our vehicles and on the road, surely we need to be considering how others would wish to be treated.

Would we wish to be cut off, yelled at, aggressively tailgated, or otherwise poorly treated? If not, why would we inflict such a thing on others?

We can also see this behavior in Jesus' teaching to "turn the other cheek." We are called to let rude behavior go, not return rudeness for rudeness.

In the same way, he says, "Deny yourself" (Matt. 16:24) When we are in a rush, but we see someone struggling to get into traffic, it is the more loving way to take a moment to let them in ahead of you than to block their way, just as the last dozen cars may have done.

And just as in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, when we see someone in the side of the road who's in need, and we can safely stop and help, we ought to take that opportunity to show kindness towards our neighbors on the road who are in need.

Jesus instructs his disciples to "be at peace with one another." (Mark 9:50) - We can also take the lesson that we should seek to make peace with one another on the road, especially when war seemingly is about to break out at any moment. "Blessed are the peacemakers" he says in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:9.) If, by allowing someone to barge ahead of us without gesturing, honking and yelling at them, we can make peace, shouldn't we take that opportunity to show God's love to others?

And what happens when we do all this - when we practice intentional, continual kindness on the road?

This kindness is noticed, and other drivers may be moved to analyze their own actions and conscience, and even consider passing along that kindness in their own commute.

Since we spend so much time in our vehicles on the road with others, we can see that this is a very real place to take up Jesus' call to spread the Kingdom of God here on the earth, letting kindness and love exist here, "as it is in Heaven." (Matt. 6:10.) 

What a great opportunity we have every day to demonstrate how God wishes us to live than to show others how his chosen Son and our moral example, Jesus, taught us to act - both on the road in throughout our daily lives.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

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, July 14, 2019

#Jesus Wants Our INTENTIONAL Good Works, Not "Random Acts" #JesusFollowers

It's popular today to see admonitions for us to do "random acts of kindness." And in a world that is often unkind, that's certainly a step in the right direction. We know that kindness has a way of rippling out into the world, touching many people in a chain of goodness. And that, of course, should be applauded.

But as followers of Jesus, we have a higher calling than that. Not only should these acts be random, they should be INTENTIONALLY done, meaning, On Purpose, and all the time.

Jesus didn't say we ought to do good occasionally, or when we felt like it, but that we should do good as a way of spreading the Kingdom of God here on earth.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "When you do Good Works..." He did not say "if you choose to do Good Works," or "If God gives you the ability to do Good Works," or any other variant. He, as our Master ("lord") simply commands us to follow his teachings, as if he ACTUALLY expects us to follow his lead! (Imagine that!)

In short, if we have made him our Master, we are called to a life of joyful obedience.

Jesus' parables are filled with urgings and promptings to do Good.

The Good Samaritan comes to mind immediately. Of all who walked by the man who had been beaten and left for dead along a road - including "religious" people of Jesus' day who assured themselves of their Elect Status with God - only one acted in a merciful way that pleased God and helped the man in distress. "Go and do likewise" says Jesus.

In the Parable of The Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) Jesus illustrates that we are to put our talents to good use here in the world, and not wait for some distant future where all things will be made right.

Jesus tells a parable of a Rich Fool  (Luke 12:13-21) illustrating that "life does not consist in an abundance of possessions," and warns against those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God, and others. Elsewhere (Matt. 12:35) Jesus says we ought to lay up goodness in our hearts, from where goodness can flow out into the world.

In his teachings, Jesus said we should "do Good" even to our enemies. (Luke 6:35) And Jesus told the Religious Elites of the day that, contrary to their practice, even on the Sabbath Day, it was appropriate to "do Good" (Matt. 12:12.) Of Jesus, it was said that "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth, "and "he went around doing Good ... because God was with him" (Acts 10:38)

Finally, Jesus in a parable of sheep and goats (Matt. 25:31-46) spells out specific ways in which we ought to be acting, and warns that God will judge us not according to our intentions (or our creeds, or our endless songs of praise or prayers) but by our acts.

"Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

As Micah the Prophet said, "He has shown you, O man, what is Good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?"

Doing Good is not an option. Jesus, our Master, commands it. If we say we love him, we'll obey his teachings, and do Good, continually. (John 14-15)

"I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you," says Jesus (John 1315.) Let's go out into the world and do Good!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Called by God's Anointed One To Seek Moral Perfection #JesusFollowers


The following little message was posted on facebook by a popular Christian TV minister:
“God knows we're not perfect. We all have faults and weaknesses and make mistakes, but God loves us anyway.”
The concepts expressed here are not controversial among modern Christians. The fact that we aren't perfect is completely correct, of course, as is the fact that we have faults and make mistakes. The fact that God loves us despite these faults and mistakes is also completely true.

So, what’s wrong with this seemingly harmless statement of facts? What’s wrong is what’s been left out, and the conclusions that the reader of such a statement is likely to draw from it.


Today’s Christians are likely to easily, perhaps too easily, embrace the idea that imperfection, faults, weaknesses and mistakes are so natural to our Nature that we are bound, in all senses of that word, as moral slaves – to continue wallowing in them and never overcome them.


The old bumper sticker slogan that “Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven,” is typical of this sentiment. The idea that we are destined by fate (and by our “flesh”) to continue to sin, is baked into the Christian message so thoroughly that it seems entirely natural that this is the message Jesus brought to us: “we are all sinners, but not to worry, we’re forgiven.” 


Martin Luther wrote that we should give up all hope of not sinning: “Be a sinner, and let your sins be BOLD. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.:


Period. End of message. Right? Not quite.


In truth, the message that Jesus preached – for which he was chosen, adopted and anointed by God as His only Son, and sent by Him to preach to the world – was not to simply accept us for who we are, it was to challenge us to strive to become morally perfect HERE, just as God is perfect IN HEAVEN.


While it’s obviously true that we will always stumble, make mistakes and fall short of God’s full glory, we are to always strive towards that Goal – the Goal that Jesus sets for us and knows we can achieve, in a way we don't even suspect we are able to achieve. 

Striving for the Kingdom of God, by repenting of our sins, pursuing righteousness through good works in the name of God, and following the perfect path of Jesus, all the while seeking God’s forgiveness for our shortcomings – this is the path Jesus set out for us to follow. 


Not only must we seek God’s forgiveness, we are required as a condition of receiving that forgiveness the granting of others forgiveness when they offend us. 


God does not wish us to remain “just as we are” in terms of our actions, attitudes and shortcomings, He wishes us to achieve the fullness of what He, our Creator, knows we CAN be. Since the dawn of human history, God has known all about human beings, and of what we are capable. He knows we can obey Him, and that we have done so repeatedly in past generations, just as He knows we are free to disobey His commandments. 


God chose and sent Jesus, His Anointed Prophet, to proclaim this Good and Beneficial Message (Gospel) to us, and to be a perfect example in his teachings, life and death that we should know it can be done by a human being. By becoming Jesus Followers, we accept the challenge Jesus gives to us to take up our cross and follow him and pursue God’s righteousness.



Selected Scripture:
 


“You are to be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 


“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34 


“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Mark 6:14-15 


"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” Luke 4:18 


“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matt. 5:16 


“Yahweh dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me. For I have kept the ways of Yahweh, and have not wickedly departed from my God.” Psalms 18:20-21 


“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” 1 John 2:1 


“Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” 1 John 3:7

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Message of #Jesus: Change, Love, Act, and Serve. #JesusFollowers


To follow Jesus is to follow the one whom we believe God chose and commissioned from among us human beings to be our template and example to follow in all things. 

This 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 teachings of Jesus call us to action, 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.

What does he call us to do?

First, Jesus says we must change.  Jesus, along with the Hebrew prophets who came before him, called people to “repent” which means to feel sorry for falling short of God’s will for our lives in our actions. To repent means that we are ready to change our actions and to seek to be better people, whether we’ve never sought this before or whether we’ve simply become lazy in our religious lives. We all come before God “as we are,” but we must not expect to remain unchanged by the message Jesus preaches – we are transformed by it into something better, more whole, more complete. (Psalm 51:17; Mark 6:12: Matt. 4:17; Luke 13:5)

Then Jesus calls us to Love. We are not called by Jesus to just strongly “like” people and things, but to Love them – a pure, strong, holy Love that transcends our trivial reasons for liking or hating people or objects. Jesus calls us to direct this Love both toward God and our neighbors. God, meaning the One, authentic, indivisible, and invisible God of Israel, Yahweh; and our neighbors, being those who are around us. And yet, we are not to just Love those who Love us back, but those who don’t even know us, and even those who hate us. THAT is the pure Love that Jesus calls us to show. (Matt. 5:44; 6:7; Mark 12:30; Luke 6:27)

Jesus calls us to Act. The faith Jesus preached is never supposed to be a lazy faith. Jesus does not call us to simply meditate on God, or on him, nor can we simply send vain words to Heaven and think  that we’ve done God’s will. Only those who act on his teachings are his servants. And it is our Righteous actions alone that God wishes us to identify as “our faith.” (Psalm 11:7; Matt. 7:21; Matt. 7:22-24; James 1:2; 2:17; 1 John 3:7)

Jesus calls us to Serve. Jesus says we are to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to house the homeless, to comfort and show compassion to those who in anguish. These aren’t throw-away lines in a play no one is watching.

These words and teachings of Jesus’ weren’t meant for another age, or simply to show us how HE acted, but didn’t expect us to do them, too (as if we could, by simply reading his actions, claim them as our own, vicariously.) Jesus assures us that we can do all that he did. Only those who are seeking to act on his words are his friends. We love him by seeking to do as he did, and nothing less. (Matt. 7:24, 13;31; John 8:31; John 14:12)

And what happens when we fall short of Jesus’ teachings, and the high standards God sets for our lives? Jesus calls us to ask for God’s forgiveness, and assures us that God is endlessly merciful and forgiving. God is pleased when we seek to step back on the path of Righteousness, like a child returning to his Father. (Matt. 5:7; Luke 15)

Jesus teaches us to endlessly and without hesitation extend forgiveness to others, in the same way God forgives those who return to him in repentance. When asked how many times we must forgive others, Jesus said, "70 times 7 times." (Matt. 18:21-22; Luke 17:3-4; Ex. 33:19)

This Jesus-centered religion of service – active service built on pure Love – is what Jesus calls us all to practice. And this man, Jesus, not only teaches us what God expects of us, he gives us an example that we, too, can follow. If we follow this example, we please God, who is both our Creator and Judge, and we will not only live a more whole, complete and joyful life here, but will, God-willing, rest with Him eternally.

So, let us Work Righteousness in this world, doing all we can to be an example of the light of God that was born within us, kindled into Good Works by the saving example of Jesus, and inflamed by God's ongoing help and graceful encouragement.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Human Beings Are Not "Born Wretched!" #JesusFollowers

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me."

Amazing Grace is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful hymns ever written. And yet, underlying it is an idea that is so toxic to our faith that it needs to be exposed and explored.

We all feel wretched at times -"wretched" meaning vile, despicable or just profoundly unhappy. Whether it's something we did to ourselves or to others, or just a vague feeling of unworthiness, the idea of being "a wretch" resonates with many because it speaks to our humanity, and how we're failing to live up to the best of what we can be.

But, in religious terms, pastors and theologians mean it in a very literal and perhaps very different way than many of us understand it. So, it's worth exploring what they mean.

Nearly 400 years after Jesus preached in Galilee and Jerusalem, a Roman Catholic Bishop named Augustine wrote that it what is not possible for human beings to not sin ("non posse non peccare") That, he said, is our natural condition, and only God, reaching down and doing Good through us, can achieve goodness on the earth.

Soon, the Catholic Church made this rather negative doctrine of humanity their belief, and it was continued by Protestants like Martin Luther and John Calvin when they broke away from Rome a thousand years later.

Now, what's offensive about saying that we are born "broken" beings before encountering Jesus in Baptism, where we are born again, or when, as a baby, this "sin stain" is washed away by sprinkling? 

There's certainly some truth to the idea that before we gain knowledge of Jesus' perfect teachings and example, which show us how God wishes us to live, we have in imperfect path to follow towards God, if we have any at all. But is that the same as saying we are "wretched" or "totally inclined towards all evil," and depraved?

This belief is dangerous because it robs us of both our ultimate accountability to God and free will, and it makes independent action by human being impossible.

This has the effect of making us mere puppets of God, rather than the glorious beings He created us to become. Needless to say, Jesus never taught it, making it unworthy of our belief.

This doctrine allows people to say that we are born hopelessly unable to do any good things in the eyes of God, and that we remain helpless to obey or do Good. They use the excuse that the first man, Adam, fell from God's grace and passed on this curse radical Disobedience to us, his descendants.

But scripture itself contradicts this. Adam's own son is portrayed as fully able to avoid sin, if he had chosen to do so (Gen. 4:6-7.) Prophets throughout the Hebrew scriptures vigorously call out to Jews and non-Jews alike (for example, Jonah and the Ninevites, Jonah 3:10) to turn to God and obey his Righteousness, with no reference to their inherited inability to do Good.

Not once was there ever any statement by them that it was somehow impossible to obey God because of a "curse" or any other reason. In fact, the prophets made it clear that it was imperative for them to do Righteousness, and that they would be judged by God according to their deeds.

Jesus fully echoes this message in his Gospel, which makes no mention of an inability of even children to obey. In fact, Jesus says the innocence and purity children show in their Faith should be emulated by all (Matt. 19:14.)

We possess the God-given moral ability to turn back to God after turning our back on Him, or to do so even if we've never heard the Gospel before. King David turned from his wretched behavior to serve God "with clean hands." The Ninevites turned away from evil. We may, too.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Necessity of Good Works #JesusFollowers


Jesus has made believers his peculiar people, by giving himself for them, a people zealous, not of rites and ceremonies, but of good works.

When our Lord, and his apostles, have laid such stress upon good works, and have frequently declared them indispensable as a condition of salvation, none, who profess Christianity, can neglect the practice of them, without the extreme peril of their souls.

This being the great end of Christ Jesus’ life and death, none who profess to be preachers of the Gospel can speak of good works with contempt or indifference, without bringing a grievous offense upon the faith of Jesus. Woe will be to them, by whom such offense comes.

After even this brief and imperfect discussion, I hope we see enough in our text to justify the eminent individual, to whom I have alluded, in resting his soul upon it; enough to awaken our minds to hope and duty.

How willing, how desirous is he to reconcile sinners to himself, saying, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die” (Ezek. 33:11) is his expostulation by the prophet. He observes by the prophet Jeremy to the Jews, and through them to all men, “Yet I sent all my servants the prophets to you again and again, saying, ‘Do not do this repulsive thing that I hate.’" (Jer. 44:4)

And in the New Testament, behold God sent out His only Son to seek and save the lost, and the train of the apostles and evangelists; all beseeching us to be reconciled to God. Let our hearts be melted by all this grace; let not one resist all this superabundant mercy.

There being such earnestness on the part of God for our salvation; and the Savior having done and suffered so much for this great end, some seem easy and confident, that salvation for all men and all characters is made certain, without any active concurrence on their part.

Let it be remembered that the very grace of God requires, in order to salvation, a renovation of heart, and purity of life. It teaches, that ungodliness must be denied, worldly lusts renounced and forsaken, that men must live in sobriety, righteousness, and godliness, and be redeemed from all iniquity, purified a peculiar people to Christ, zealous of good works.

It is in vain, then, for any of us to take encouragement from the grace of God, great, wonderful as it is, except, at the same time, we yield ourselves to the condition, on which it brings salvation. We must be divorced from sin, or renounce the hope of salvation. In the Gospel plan, and in the nature of things, sin and salvation cannot go together. 

Let us, then, abandon false hopes, and judge truly, that no step is taken toward salvation, any farther than it is taken in renouncing sin. Judge, then, my dear hearers, judge of your hope and prospect of the great salvation, precisely according to the degree in which you die unto sin and live unto righteousness, are dead to the world, and alive unto God.

From: “Sermons by the Late Rev. Abiel Abbot of Beverly, MA” (1831) by S. Everett.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

We're Responsible To God For Our Own Actions! #JesusFollowers


There is no truth more clearly taught in in the scriptures than this: that God will render to every man according to his deeds. The scriptures contain scores of passages which teach us that God will bring every work into judgement, whether it be good or whether it be evil.

Being accountable to God for our actions, those who set His laws at defiance are justly deserving of a punishment, and can be sure of their reward.

In relation to the native characters of human beings, we all came into the world pure; that is, free from any innate depravity, and are born into the world without a moral character; we neither possess any positive virtue, nor actual vice; but we inherit a nature which is capable of both. We cannot believe a God of infinite mercy would bring His own offspring into being under a load of hereditary guilt. 

We also cannot admit that infants in all ages are "liable to the pains of hell forever," in consequence of the sin of our first parents – a sin committed without their knowledge or agency, and thousands of years before they had a being.

The scriptures teach us that infants are free from moral defilement. Our Savior took up little children in his arms and blessed them, and pronounced them heirs of his kingdom. But if they had been totally depraved, filled with all that is evil, would he have taken them up in his arms and blessed them?

Had they been embryos of hell, as they are frequently represented, Jesus would not have pronounced them heirs of his kingdom. Again, our Master says, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:3)

With these, and several other passages before us, we are constrained to believe that we are born into the world pure. The doctrine of imputation appears to be cruelly unjust. Every man is accountable for himself, and for himself alone. The scriptures assure us that, "the father shall not bear the iniquity of the son, nor the son the iniquity of the father." (Ezek. 18:20)

Such passages entirely destroy the doctrine of imputation. All who arrive at years of understanding are depraved in some degree, but their depravity is of their own making.

How is it possible to transfer the guilt of Adam's sin to me? I cannot be criminal, unless I have a consciousness of committing the act, and I cannot have this consciousness of committing the act, unless I have in fact committed it; and if I have in fact committed the sin, it ceases to be Adam's, and becomes my own.

The doctrine of total depravity appears to impeach both the wisdom and goodness of the Deity. If we are the subjects of this total corruption, the revelation which God has given us would be useless.  If God requires all to love him, was it wise of Him to give us a nature which would forever prevent our compliance?

The scriptures assure that God will punish sin. But does it not infringe upon His goodness to say He will punish us for our sins which the nature He gave us compels us to perform? 

There is no truth more sacred than this: that we are accountable for our actions, just as far as we have an ability to perform our duty, and no farther. Whenever you limit our ability to do good, there our accountability ceases.

We must contend for moral virtue. I object to the contemptuous manner in which some speak of morality. Some denounce moral excellence as "dry morality," and insinuate that it is akin to infidelity. If moral goodness is the fruit of infidelity, then give us infidelity in preference to that Christianity which teaches us to slight virtuous actions. 

We may perform good actions from bad motives. In such a case, there is no moral worth in such an act. But if we perform good actions from benevolent motives, they are in the exercise of practical Christianity. Whoever does to others as they desire them to do to him, obeys the requirement of the religion of Jesus.

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father," (James 1:27) consists in gratitude to God, good will to others, and watchfulness over our own conduct. 

If we do not exercise charity one to another; if we do not deal justly with our fellow creatures, our religion is of a spurious kind. As Christians, it is our duty to correct our own faults, rather than point out those of others.

We should so favor excellence of character, so that all preaching ought to be directed to this one object, namely, to make people better. Religion in theory should not be valued as much as in practice. Further, religion has no value unless it effects the conduct and renders people virtuous and good. Not that theoretical religion doesn’t have worth, but its value lies entirely in its influence upon the mind and the heart.

That system of doctrines which does not exert an influence over the person is useless. Every scheme, therefore, which is made up of cold speculations which cannot warm the affections, or of inexplicable mysteries which no mortal can comprehend, is not worth professing.

(Adapted from a Sermon by Rev. Charles Hudson, 1795-1881)

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Yes, The Words of #Jesus STILL Matter! #JesusFollowers


A world famous preacher likes to say that Jesus did “three day’s work” and that is all he ever did. By this, he means that he died, spent time in a tomb, and then rose to Heaven. That, to him, was all Jesus was good for.

But this ignores the mission of Jesus: to teach and preach. Jesus’ words, in the view of that minister, mean nothing.

But we cannot ignore Jesus' words, because Jesus said his words and teachings would last forever. Anyone teaching people to disregard his teachings, therefore, is misleading us.

Jesus said that to hear and follow his words is like building a house on solid rock (Luke 6:48) and whoever is ashamed of him and his words is the one Jesus will be ashamed of (Mark 8:38.)

He said to the Apostles at one point, "You don't also want to go away, do you?" Peter answered him, "Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:67-68.)

Peter was right. Where, indeed, and to WHOM would we get better information about eternal life and salvation from sin than Jesus himself? There is no one other than Jesus we need to hear when it comes to this important subject.

The words of Jesus have no expiration date.

Jesus never said that his teachings and words to the Apostles were directed only to those living in Roman Judea. Instead, he says, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." (Matt. 24:35) While he did address certain things to his fellow Jews alone, his message and moral teachings are universal. Jesus never told us his words were only meant for a certain time in history.

There are no better teachings than the words of Jesus himself.

Jesus didn't say that after his ministry ended, someone else would be coming to interpret his words or change his teachings. Jesus said, “EVERYTHING that I learned from my Father, I have MADE KNOWN to you." Matt. 15:15. No further revelations are required for us to “learn” about God and God’s Will for our lives.

Jesus spoke on God's authority.

Jesus' words, he said, were not spoken on his own authority, but on God's (John 14:10) and Jesus said his actions always pleased God (John 8:29) making him our perfect example in all things.

If we believe this, then Jesus' words and actions reflect the Will of God, Who chose and anointed Jesus as God's spokesman, sending him out to preach a Good and Beneficial Message ("Gospel".) (Luke 4:18)

There is nothing greater, then, than the teachings of Jesus. They are to be the focus of our lives.

An often overlooked phrase in a popular verse, Jesus calls on us to teach and make disciples of all nations, and also, "teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you." All of his teachings, therefore, have eternal and profound significance, and deserve to be known by all peoples.

His clear teachings, which call on us to perform Good Works, to seek heavenly treasures rather than earthly ones, to pray and act righteously without doing so just to be seen by others, to actively serve others, especially the poor, to turn the other cheek, to love and pray for enemies, and to go the extra mile in all that we do, HAVE NEVER BEEN CHANGED. Nor can we explain them away or minimize their importance, or allow others to do so.

Jesus' words have not been repealed. His teachings remain in effect today. And his words were spoken in order to be followed by those who claim to love him.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

God's Kingdom is Why Jesus Lived and Preached #JesusFollowers


Why was Jesus born? And what was the purpose of his life and ministry?

Was he born simply as a bag of flesh, destined only to later die as a ritual sacrifice that would appease an angry god and "cover" our future sins with his remote and perfect goodness, if we simply believed he existed?

We find nothing in his words to suggest that scenario, despite the popularity of this misguided belief. A very popular minister once said Jesus did only, "Three days' work." meaning that his death and resurrection were all his ministry was worth. Again, Jesus' own words condemn this false belief.

Or, instead, did God choose this righteous man to spread a good and beneficial message and to be our perfect example of how God wishes us to live? Jesus' own words suggest this is the Truth, for example, when he plainly says, "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I WAS SENT FOR THIS PURPOSE” (Luke 4:43.)

Jesus' ministry and life's message was entirely focused on this Kingdom of God - the ideal realm of Heaven that Jesus said should be made a reality here on earth, "as it is in Heaven" (Matt. 6:10.) That this is a spiritual and not a temporal one is also clear from his own words (John 18:36.)

It's a kingdom in which we are called to be righteous, merciful, and complete ("perfect") just as God is (Matt. 5:20, 5:48, Luke 6:36) and just as the man Jesus - whom God chose as his spokesman - modeled for us with the example of his selfless life and death (John 13:15; 1 John 2:6.)

"Seek first the Kingdom of God" he tells us (Matt. 6:33.) He warns us to not store up treasure on earth that can rust or rot away, but to instead seek Heavenly treasure that lasts forever (Matt. 6:19-20.)

He calls us to love our Creator with ALL of our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30) and to not only love our neighbors as we love ourselves (12:31) but extend that love and compassion to strangers we encounter on the roadside and to even our enemies (Matt. 5:44.)

Long ignored by Christian ministers as quaint or out-of-date, Jesus' call to "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 teaching.

In all of this, we see that our actions matter. We will be judged according to our deeds (Matt. 16:27) and our eternal life in God's presence will be determined by our acts, not our vain words (Matt. 6:7.)

We are called to "remain in his love," and we may do this by obeying him and following after his example.

"If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commandments and remain in his love," he tells us (John 15:10.)

Jesus makes it clear that entrance into this Kingdom is NOT without commitment on our part. It's not a wide gate the entire world will choose (Matt. 7:13.) Only those who DO the will of God, our Father, will gain entry to it (Matt 7:21.)

The teachings Jesus left us are the most valuable legacy we can inherit. His words will never pass away (Mark 13:31.)

The death of Jesus was a continuation of his life – his message of extreme self-sacrifice and love for others, and a voluntary act of devotion to both his "friends" and to God. Who are his friends? Those who do as he commands (John 15:12-14.) Those who would make his death into a magical charm that gives them a "get out of jail free" card so they can continue to sin and forgo Good Works are degrading and spitting on Jesus' cross, not honoring it.

And those who are quick to say "Lord, Lord!" but forget it means "Master, Master!" should remember that by claiming Jesus as our Master and God's representative, we must obey his teachings, not just praise his name.

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 Righteous, to serve God not money, to lose ourselves, but gain eternity.

This is a faith worth having and a Master worth serving - a faith that bring us life, and life more abundantly (John 10:10.) Those who would throw it away by minimizing and glossing over Jesus' words are throwing God's Kingdom away, and this is one thing all who love God must never do.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Gospel Is Simple #JesusFollowers

The simplicity of the Christian doctrine concerning God and His Christ is a great theme of the Gospel.

Simplicity is in itself a beauty and excellence. It gives us clear ideas, and assists our comprehension of a subject. The simplicity of the Gospel corresponds and agrees with the works of nature; in which there is no vain show or useless magnificence; though there is united with it, through the whole creation, a wonderful sublimity and grandeur.

The simplicity of the Gospel combines the belief in the unity of God and contemplation of His supreme, unrivaled perfection with the belief in the humanity of Christ, his authority as the Divine’s prophet and universal Savior, and his awesome dignity as the judge of all men.

Concerning the person of Christ, is it not a clear and satisfactory conclusion, that his perfect humanity is as essential and fundamental an article of our faith, as that there is one God, the Father, announced under the Old Testament as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and then as Yahweh, of the Jews; and in the New Testament, as the God and Father of our Master, Jesus Christ?

The simplicity of the Gospel, in its doctrine concerning the humanity of Christ, helps the imagination to contemplate the man Christ Jesus living and dying like us, which is calculated to affect the senses, and move the heart. It is more adapted to our feelings and condition, it is more encouraging and consolatory than can be any idea of him being an abstract invisible object, a creature in his powers and dignity placed at an immeasurable height above us.

The simplicity of the Gospel, with respect to the rule of life it lays down, and the doctrine of another life, is suitable to its nature. It is designed to be the religion of the unlearned as well as the learned, to be preached to the poor and the wayfaring man.

The consideration that Jesus was a man, in a word, makes the whole history of his ministry clear and consistent: it gives energy and beauty to his example, as that of our elder brother, one in our nature, tempted as we are.

It shows the propriety and value of his reward; not as a recovery of glory that had been laid aside, nor as a reinstatement in former dignity, but as an acquisition of new honor and power: and its usefulness, as a model of the reward promised to us, if, as he overcame, we also overcome the temptations that try us.

The appropriate dignity and authority of Jesus Christ, in his relation to the human race, arises not from his having been the Creator of the world, or from having possessed super-angelic perfection and glory before all ages, but from his being chosen and sent by God to be the minister of divine mercy, and the Messiah.

Persevere in your efforts to serve the cause of pure Christianity. Let, however, your endeavors to promote the spread and reception of doctrinal truths, be always accompanied with, and be always subservient to, an ardent zeal in the cause of vital religion and pious virtue.

What is speculation without practice? What are the clearest notions in the head without virtue in the heart arid life? What is the knowledge of God, and of his Christ, without obedience? Let us be ourselves exemplary in the Christian temper and conduct.

Adapted from the writings of Rev. Joshua Toulmin, 1810

Sunday, May 12, 2019

How Can We Know What Is Good? #JesusFollowers


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 5, 2019

God Forgives Us #JesusFollowers


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 28, 2019

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


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

How is that possible, you say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s ready to become a Jesus Follower?

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Why Did Jesus Die? A Meditation #JesusFollowers


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Welcoming the Wrong Messiah - Both Then and Now #JesusFollowers


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 7, 2019

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a great hope and comfort that is!

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