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.



Sunday, March 31, 2019

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, March 24, 2019

7 Hard Truths Christians Need To Hear (Part 2) #JesusFollowers


The teachings of Jesus seem almost quaint and old fashioned to some ministers. (When was the last time his command to “Do unto others” was taught from a pulpit, not to mention “When you do Good Works!?)

They are rarely preached, and aren’t emphasized as much as later teachers’ words. Why is that? Jesus, after all, is our Master, and if we believe he is our Master, ought his teachings be the CORE and the center of our Faith in God, Who sent Jesus out to preach? 

Let’s continue to examine some hard truths that Christians seem to need to hear again:

4) Praising Jesus' name without obeying his teachings means you don't actually love him  

This Sunday, in churches around the world, the name of Jesus will be chanted and evoked as if it was a magic spell. While there is nothing wrong with thanking God for choosing Jesus as our perfect moral example in all things, and praising God Himself for our existence and the existence of this beautiful creation, if we raise our hands in PRAISE OF JESUS while in Church, we must then become the very HANDS OF JESUS when we leave the Church building. And in fact, Jesus himself clearly states that simply chanting, "Lord, Lord" but refusing to follow his teachings is not acceptable (Matt. 7:21) 

We must instead obey God, and Jesus calls us to put his teachings into practice, lest we build our houses of faith on the shifting sands of mere words, empty praise or a false assurance in our own eternal salvation. (Matt. 7:24)

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. 

5) Righteousness and Sinfulness CANNOT be inherited.  

Jesus tells us that there is no substitute for DOING righteousness. Righteousness is always stated by Jesus as something we must DO, just as it was in all the other books of the Hebrew Bible. It cannot be inherited from another, even Jesus. Our own acts must be our own, and our own righteousness is required from us. God, through the Prophet Isaiah, tells us (1:16) "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good." 

Ezekiel (18:20-21) says: “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die." We alone are responsible for our own sins and good deeds. 

Jesus says we are judged not by our words, not by our intentions (and certainly not by another's) but by our own ACTS and DEEDS, and them alone. God expects us to obey his moral commands, as Jesus repeated consistently.

He said that no one else would be charged with our disobedience, and no other would be responsible for our actions except ourselves. The life that Jesus calls on us to pursue in his Gospel is a life of works, action, radical love and service to others.

6) Salvation isn't "faith alone," nor our "works alone" but it's God alone who judges our worthiness for salvation.  

For centuries, clever men have enjoyed taking the words of Jesus and ripping out a phrase here and there, and proclaiming that ONLY belief in Jesus is necessary for eternal salvation. Of course, this does the words of Jesus and his Gospel a grave injustice, because it is not what he taught. In truth, belief - in Jesus' plan of repentance and righteousness, not just belief "in" him - is only a first step in our Faith, and Jesus always portrays it as such. 

Simply professing belief, without accompanying that belief with active Good Works, is worthless. (James 2:19) Jesus, in the only time he was asked explicitly how one achieves eternal life, answered, "You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" (Mark 10:17-19) That is the Gospel message of Jesus - obedience to God's moral Law. 

But it must be said, we cannot do WORKS ALONE without Faith, because our Faith is based on the teachings and example of Jesus.

Without a faith in Jesus grounded in following his teachings, carrying his cross and holding his message in our hearts daily, we have no idea what "works" to do, nor how to do them.

Since Jesus pleased God with all he did (John 14:12) we ought to hold his example before us at all times. We must strive to enter the "narrow door" of Salvation (Luke 13:24) humbly allowing GOD ALONE to be our ONLY judge of worthiness. 

7) If we claim to follow Jesus, we give up the right to be selfish and life for ourselves.  

Jesus taught that being selfish was wrong, and to serve others - even before ourselves - is our mission here in this life. Going the extra mile, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, comforting the sick, are all simple, clear teachings of our Master. 

We are called to be servants of others, and that we will be rewarded with Heaven - closeness to God forever - if we obey God's will for our lives, which was purely exemplified by Jesus' life. 

The best way to show that we are followers of Jesus is by showing love towards, and serving, others. Jesus says we must deny our SELVES, taking up our crosses daily, and love one another, just as he loved us. (Luke 9:23; John 15:12) If we call Jesus our friend and Master, we will do all that he asks us to do. 

He calls us to love and care for others without reservation, selflessly, and in all purity.

Let's go do that!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

7 Hard Truths Christians Need To Hear (Part 1) #JesusFollowers

The teachings of Jesus are clear, consistent and powerful. Jesus said his words would last forever - would not pass away. And his teachings about how we should act in this world were profound.
If we understand this, we will naturally put Jesus' clear, plain teachings at the center of our Faith, and they would obviously be placed at the core of any teachings about that Faith.

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

Many of man's clever words give birth to man-made doctrines that turn Jesus' religion toxic. Let’s begin to examine some hard truths modern Christians need to hear about what they’ve been taught that aren't consistent with the teachings of the one they claim to call "Master."

1) A Faith in Jesus actually means following his teachings. 
Churches rarely focus on them – and in fact, sometimes rarely speak them from the pulpit or TV screen – but the teachings of Jesus aren't just the core of the Gospel, they ARE the Gospel. 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) 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.

But if we do not seek to follow his words, if we claim these words and teachings are too hard for us, impossible for "mere" humans, not necessary for our salvation, 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. It's clear from all of these sayings of Jesus, that he believed being called a follower of Jesus, or having faith in him, meant that we are to following his teachings.

2) Prayer doesn't put God to work granting our wishes, it puts us to work serving others.  
Many Christians want God to be our magic genie, our butler and our doorman, and He cannot be any of these. And even as Jesus consistently preached that we should desire spiritual things and not earthly treasures (Matt. 6:19-20; Luke 12:33) many Christians pray to God for new cars, more money, a promotion and for an end to sickness and pain. That’s witchcraft, not faith in God. We should be seeking God’s help to overcome adversity, endure suffering, avoid temptation, and grow stronger from all that the world sends our way, and speak to God about all things and all of our troubles and concerns.

When King David prayed to God, he prayed seeking to be renewed and for his soul to be restored (Psalm 23:3) and acknowledged that it was God Who would lead him towards righteousness. This is just as it should be. Through the example of Jesus, the one God has anointed as His Spokesman, we know that God wishes us to seek Him in prayer for spiritual, not material, things. Let us pray with honor and respect to the One Who created us and has the ability to give us all the spiritual help we need from his vast spiritual storehouse.

3) If you're waiting for God to clothe, house and feed you, you're doing the Gospel backwards.  
Are we fully prepared to face all of life's challenges? We can be. But we can't if we're paralyzed by the thought that we don't have the "right" opportunities before us. Some people are waiting for God to act, to "open a door," to make things "right" for us so we can finally be the people God wishes us to be. They wait, sometimes a lifetime, for God to "put the right person" into their lives, either a mate or a boss or a benefactor.

But we should stop waiting, and start acting. Because Jesus, the one He chose and sent to us as a teacher, tells us God does not show favoritism among people, and the scriptures teach us that He does not accept bribes to do our bidding for us (Deut. 10:17.) Jesus calls us to a life of Good Works, done in humility and compassion. (Matt. 5:16; 6:5)

Service to others leads to spiritual completeness. (Matt. 5:48) “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me" (Matt. 25:36.) We are called to serve others' needs. That's how God's Kingdom becomes established here on earth.

Let's be about our Father's business and do as Jesus calls us to do!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

#Jesus: A Practical Preacher And Fitting Example #JesusFollowers


Jesus was a preacher of repentance and righteousness. He made known the love of God and declared the mercy of God to a guilty world; but at the same time, he insisted that without repentance there can be no salvation. (Luke 13:3-5.) God sent him to bless mankind; but it was by turning them from their iniquities. (Acts 3:26.)

He declared that a leading object of his mission was to call sinners to repentance. (Mark 2:17.) To deny the efficacy of repentance would be to render the mission of Jesus a nullity.

In his Sermon on the Mount he appears altogether in the character of a practical preacher.

He taught that to do the will of God, and seek to be like Him, is the only way to gain admittance into his kingdom, that the condition of forgiveness is our forgiving others, and that the man who hears his sayings and doeth them builds on a good foundation, that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees or we shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (See Matt. 5, 6 & 7.)

When he upbraided the cities in which most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not, he spoke of their impenitence as the sole cause of their destruction, Chap. 11:20-24.

He taught that men will be accepted or rejected according to the use they make of the talents entrusted to their care; that when brought to judgment, they will be received to glory, or doomed to punishment, according to their works (Chapter 25.) Throughout his ministry he taught men to expect salvation, and every blessing, on the ground of the love, mercy and favor of God, solely on the terms of repentance and obedience to the Gospel.

He accepted those as his nearest relatives who did the will of his heavenly Father. Mark 3:35. When a young man inquired of him what he must do to inherit eternal life, he directed him to keep the commandments of God. chap 10:19. He informed the lawyer who tempted him that if he kept the commandments he should live. (Luke 10:25-28.)

Jesus represented God as accepting penitent sinners, on the ground of his free mercy, just as a compassionate father would his offending child when he saw him turn from his folly. (Luke 15.)

He said to his disciples if you know these things happy are you if you do them: (John 13:17) which implies that happiness can be attained only by obedience. He taught them that they should continue accepted if they continued in his word, and that if they did not they should be rejected. (Chap. 15:1-8.)

The Gospel is undoubtedly a system of divine mercy and grace, but in this system conditions are certainly comprehended. The conditions are repentance, faith, and obedience. Without a compliance with these conditions sinners cannot be saved.

We have redemption in Jesus as we have it in his Gospel: he came and revealed it, he lost his life in making it known, he is appointed by the Father to dispense it, and we enjoy it so far as we conform to his teaching and example, so that we should not henceforth live to ourselves, in the gratification of our evil passions and desires, but to him, in obedience to his Gospel, and in the imitation of his example, especially of that generous love which he manifested in laying down his life for the good of men.

Jesus can be an example to us only so far as he was like us in nature, state and circumstances, or as we are capable of becoming like him. Had he never suffered, he could not have been an example to us in suffering: Had he not died he could not have been an example to us in dying. Had he not perfectly obeyed he could not have been an example of perfect obedience.

But now by his death, his character is perfected, his qualifications are completed, his testimony is finished, his obedience is tried and, found perfect, he received a glorious reward, and we have a suitable and perfect example of every excellency attainable by us.

(By Richard Wright in “The Anti-Satisfactionist, 1805)

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Prodigal Son and God's Merciful Justice #JesusFollowers #parables

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus teaches us that we are to rejoice and be accepting of those among us who return after wronging us. The parable also teaches us that God is ready and waiting for those who return to the path of righteousness.

In the parable, a son asks for his inheritance early and goes away, only to squander it on lustful living. He exhausts his money and returns to his father's house, seeking a job as a servant. But the father, even before he reaches his gate, runs out to greet him, and immediately forgiving him, prepares a feast for him.

In this way, Jesus teaches us to endlessly and without hesitation forgive 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."

Our repentance for our sins - just as the boy who return to his father - satisfies any Justice God requires for transgressing his moral Law, because God is not a monster, but a loving Parent who wants us to live in peace with Him and with our fellow human beings.

Mercy is given by God to those who ask for forgiveness and accept it. That's the contract; that's the "price" to be paid, just as the price the Prodigal Son paid was returning to his father in humility.

The first and most solemn declaration of God to Moses (Exodus 34:6-7) is that of "God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering - forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin." David constantly prays for the pardon of sin, for God's "mercy's sake," (Psalms 44:26) and finds forgiveness for his sins upon repentance, living thereafter with "clean hands" before God (2 Samuel 22:21.) In the story of Jonah, that God is shown to be merciful to Nineveh if only they repented from their sins (Jonah 4:1.)

But the way that Forgiveness, Justice and Mercy are understood by many Christians would force us to radically re-tell the parable, because, like Jonah, some Christians are very angry that God so easily forgives.

Seeking inspiration not from Jesus' teachings, but from angry medieval lawyers and kings, they have created, and spread, a doctrine of God's Justice that is the enemy of God's Mercy. It is a doctrine in which God CANNOT simply forgive without a blood sacrifice - someone MUST pay the "price" for a sin.

But God's mercy is NOT the enemy of God's forgiveness. Both exist in equal measure in the heart of our loving God, Who is eager to forgive us upon our repentance alone.

In their telling of the story, it must be re-written, so that the Prodigal Son's vengeful father would stop the boy at his gates and then demand that his eldest son be slaughtered in order to satisfy the sins of the youngest who sinned against his father. Only then, when the elder son's blood was spilled, would the payment be accepted.

This may have been a perfectly reasonable way to achieve justice in the ancient world, but if we put our belief solely in Jesus' teachings, and not in other mens', we know that this is not how God shows Mercy OR Justice.  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.

"I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," God tells Moses. "And I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." (Exodus 33:19)

In the parable, even when the son "was yet a great way off," the father ran to meet him, and "fell upon his neck and kissed him" (Luke 15:20.) When Jesus calls us to forgive others as God has forgiven us, does that mean we have a duty to exact a blood payment from those whom WE wish to forgive? The opposite is true. We must forgive 70x7 times, joyfully and without hesitation.

God cannot be held to our human standards of how Justice and Mercy should work. And we should be extremely grateful for that.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

What Does #Jesus Mean By "Meek?" #JesusFollowers


To the true follower of Jesus, whose heart is filled with the love for truth, no other subject can be as fit for imitation as the character of our Master.

In his conduct, we see all the divine precepts of moral duty modeled by his holy life, and he calls on us to join him in living them in our own lives.

"Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest unto your souls," he says (Matt. 11:29) And during his Sermon on the Mount, he says, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." (Matt. 5:5)

Here he echoes the Psalmist, who wrote, "The meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace."

From Jesus, the one God anointed and sent to teach us, we receive perfect examples of moral excellence that show for us the image of God in the human soul. And Jesus lived this life that he called us to emulate, rather than just hearing his teachings. (Matt. 7:24; John 14:21)

But what of Jesus' modern followers? Do they seek to represent the meekness of their Master?

Does a preacher calling on his flock to take over the government and rule in triumph over all others show meekness?

Does calling oneself a "child of the king" (meaning Jesus) and bragging that this means Christians are entitled to reign over the earth because of such a title speak of "meekness"?

Does it build up, or tear down, the Kingdom of God when preachers live in large mansions, have fleets of cars and jets, speak of meekness?

Does it serve God's Kingdom to suggest that the mere mention of Jesus' name "claims" wealth and power and earthly riches, which God is required to give, based on our demands?

Does it speak of meekness to claim that by a few vain words, we may demand that God grant us entrance to Heaven, and that by "electing" ourselves to salvation in this way, it may never be taken away by God?

Luckily, we have Jesus’ life as an example of true meekness to counter these false echoes of the life he led.

The one whom God called out and adopted at this baptism as His only Son had no place to lay his head.

Jesus said God’s Kingdom was spiritual, and "not of this earth," and that Caesar's government was Caesars, but we were to humbly do God’s will regardless of the consequences.

Jesus called his disciples to respond with kindness when attacked, to turn the other cheek, and to be humble, not flashy, when doing the Good Works we are called to do as a light to he world.

Jesus called us actually deny ourselves, and be willing to give up everything, including our homes, our fortunes, our self-centeredness, in order to serve our neighbors for the glory of the Kingdom of God.

His teachings, in fact, as so far from the example of today’s Christendom that it hardly seems like it's based on the same teacher, and of course, it really isn’t. The Church has as many human "fathers" but no room for the One True Father of all, nor for His Son, who actually modeled meekness for us in both word and deed.

Meekness is the result of self-denial, self-knowledge, and self-control. It results from reflecting on the example of Jesus, the only example that can save us eternally.

It keeps us from falling into the trap of self-indulgence and self-worship, focusing instead on the goal of attaining that Godliness that our example Jesus perfectly models for us.

So, let us keep the words of our Savior always in our minds, and by striving to possess the mind which was in Jesus our Master, in humble dependence on God's divine assistance, we shall not be disappointed in the end.

And may God grant that we may drink in so much of his spirit, that that mind which was in him may be also in us; so that, like him, we may be, "meek and lowly in heart."

(Adapted in part from a sermon by Rev. Anthony Forster)

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Service: The Secret of Success in Life, and The Church #JesusFollowers



“Whoever would be first among you, let him be your servant.” (Matt. 20:27)

As the great fountain of beneficence, we see God with lavish hand pouring forth bounty and blessing upon His creatures and children, ruling the universe with the divine principle of service. As a loving Father, He seeks His children, ever ready to bless. We learn to love Him because He first loves us, as forever our best Friend.

By this principle Jesus rises to the throne of a true lordship, becomes leader and prince in the realm of religion, his church supreme and enduring amid the religions of the world. In darker days, worshiped as Deity, far away and above human experience, the example of Jesus was lost from sight, his mission deemed a sacrifice to pay the penalty of human guilt. 

Later days begin to see him more truly as the Gospels portray him, loving Friend and Helper. Because by life and word he served humanity, he is lovingly enshrined in millions of hearts. Our practical world and time are fast coming to care little for dogmatic opinions and dead debates of his nature. That Jesus brings a power of blessing for today welcomes and enthrones him in high place as divine example and best spiritual leader.

Walking in his footsteps and cherishing his spirit, our lives become unselfish and helpful with a loving service that renders the humblest Christ-like and God-like.

All legitimate business is a mutual service, with both parties benefited. As commerce runs its lines around the globe, civilization is tending to bind into one brotherhood the whole human family, fulfilling the sentiment of the fine Swiss motto, "Each for all, and all for each."

Everywhere and forever genuine service is the supreme secret of true success. Whatever best serves human need will win the glad homage of the human heart, will go to the front, will conquer and command. This is true alike for persons and peoples, nations and churches.

June days of every year are sending forth from academies, seminaries, and colleges a great host of young men and women, graduated to start upon their life career. As they enter upon the busy arena of practical affairs, comes to each the sharp summons: Do some good work or get out of the way!

By this ruling life principle, each speedily becomes weighed and measured, tested and judged. Does one ask supremely for some soft place of easiest work and largest pay, to settle down in selfish indulgence, ignoble comfort and content? He is speedily ignored and forgotten.

Whomever asks supremely for the greatest opportunity, open field for best work for which their ability is adequate, nobly consecrates themselves, unselfishly does their best, doors speedily open to them. Higher opportunities seek them. People love and honor them. Living or dying, they go in, on, and up to heights of usefulness and renown.

The law of service applies equally to institutions. It is true of the Church.

Soon after the death of Jesus and his apostles, the pure, simple, practical gospel they preached became obscured by heathen traditions that still linger in popular theology. The flowing stream has gathered sediment.

We seek to filter it, and get the pure, living water, to restore and apply to life the original gospel preached by Jesus.

We seek to welcome and keep pace with advancing intelligence. It offers no mystical or miraculous plan of salvation, but by practical righteousness would turn the wilderness into a garden.

But the better day among us is dawning, the missionary spirit awakening, and pushing its way into every open door of opportunity for service. Primarily we come hither for worship, for inspiration and guidance, for friendly fellowship, for comfort in sorrow and good cheer in daily living.

 The church’s larger purpose is not only for worship, but for work; not only to get good, but to do good. While old dogmas and forms are passing away, the ideal church of the future we hope here to realize.

The true church is not a concert or lecture hall of luxurious surroundings, with an audience of passive hearers to be entertained with sweet music and eloquent preaching. 

It is a congregation, a coming together, a union of souls joining hearts and hands for good work. The true church is not an aristocratic club, composed of a few select, superior saints, but, as in Galilee, a company of the common people who heard Jesus gladly.

We here today start afresh to work for and realize the ideal coming church. Every blessing to our own souls we would send out as blessing to others in life's sore struggle. Personal consecration crowned by zealous purpose to bless the world would make ours the church of the helping hand. Only by practical service can we hope to win.

Without this, the Master does not need us, and the world has no place for us. The logic of events issues the edict, "Do some good work, or better close the doors and disband."

Only as practically we serve this community can our church live or hope to win success.


(Adapted from a 1910 sermon by Rev. Russ R. Shippen)