Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Teachings of Jesus Call us to ACTION! #JesusFollowers


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

Sunday, October 6, 2019

What Do We Owe God, And Others? #JesusFollowers


What do we owe to God? What do we owe to others? Many today might answer that we owe God and others nothing. Instead, they might say, we owe it to ourselves to focus on building up our self alone.

This message is reinforced in almost every aspect of the society we live in. Advertising tells us that we owe it to ourselves to Grant our every desire, without hesitation.

We are told that we deserve every luxury and every Indulgence we can think of. It's very very easy to fall into this trap, to believe that by gratifying ourselves that we will somehow be happy.

Even some preachers teach that we owe it to ourselves to be rich - and that God endorses our quest for riches. They even say that our main religious goal in life is a Self-centered goal to "get saved," and save our souls for the next life. Once that's accomplished (and it's done quickly and easily, they claim - with just one prayer!) we may continue to focus on getting rich, and they tell us that we have no other obligations.

And many church leaders rarely speak of OUR duties, but speak of, and sing about, holding GOD to HIS promises.

But as we have seen again and again, people who have lived in luxury beyond our wildest dreams have the same feelings of unhappiness, of being unfulfilled, of feeling alone and unloved.

It's almost a stereotype and a truism that money and fame does not really bring happiness. And yet some still believe it, and Chase the dream.

If we follow Jesus, however, then the question of what we owe God and what we owe others is a simple one to answer. We owe everything to God and we owe complete and total service to others in the name of Jesus, whom we serve.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he said that we are to love our God with all our hearts all our minds all our strength and all our understanding, and our neighbor as ourselves. (Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:37)

Some say this is just a simplistic and easy summary of all the laws of God. And while it is a summary, for sure, it is not simplistic, but an incredible, powerful challenge that Jesus calls us to take up daily.

Because if we owe everything to God, our creator, we will live our lives full of gratitude to him for this creation and for our lives in it. If we owe everything to others, we will serve them and love them and cherish them. We will do everything to comfort them to ensure they have what they need to survive and thrive in this world.

When we understand that our lives here are meant to build up an Earthly kingdom of God, one that reflects the spiritual Perfection of our creator, we will do all we can to alleviate suffering, comfort those in pain, and fill the needs of those who lack basic necessities. (Matt. 6:10)

This leaves little room for simply piling up riches. In fact, Jesus repeatedly calls on us to reject riches for riches' sake, saying (perhaps most famously) that it's easier for a rich man to go through the eye of needle than to enter into the Kingdom. (Mark 10:25) 

Perhaps not as famous, but just as important, is his warning that we ought to, "be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in an abundance of possessions." (Luke 12:15)

This is the selfless vision and the mission Jesus came to preach. Jesus calls us to individually reach out to those among us and serve them.

We as Jesus followers are called to deny ourselves, not focus on gratifying ourselves - to put others first, even ahead of our own enrichment. Jesus calls us to pick up the cross of service, the cross of love, the cross of self-sacrifice and love of our neighbor.

Jesus actually warns AGAINST seeking to save oneself. To do so means we will actually lose ourselves. (Matt. 10:38-39) Jesus seemed to know that we lose our souls when we focus inward, not outward.

And he specifically says that simple praise, crying out or reflexively using repetitive phrases will not impress God, and will not save us, either. Only by doing what he commands us to do leads directly to Godliness, and pleases God. (Matt. 6:7; 7:21-23; Luke 6:46)

We should seek to live in a way that lets God's spirit flow through us in the same way in which it flowed through Jesus, our Master. 

When we do this, we are obeying our Master, whom God sent to us as an example and our teacher. We are then telling  God that we are living lives of gratitude and service, just as his chosen son, Jesus, called us to do.

As his followers, we ought to do no less.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

#Jesus Taught A Reasonable Faith #JesusFollowers



Faith is a reasonable principle. There is nothing dark, mysterious, or unintelligible in it; nothing for which he who values himself most upon the character of his reason has any cause to be ashamed.
It is not an enthusiastic principle that first gives cause to dreams and visions, and then supports itself upon imaginations of its own creating.

It is not a supernatural impression proceeding from the immediate agency of God, capriciously bestowed where He pleases to bestow it, and denied where He wills it to be denied. 

It is not an inexplicable feeling of we know not what, conceived we know not how, and cherished we know not why; it is not the persuasion of anything, whether good or evil, concerning either ourselves or any other being, taken up without reason, and maintained upon principle, that may not be duly specified and explained.

It is not a sudden irradiation of the mind, proceeding from whatever cause; it is the natural and necessary result of the principles that compose the human frame.

To a duly formed eye, show any object of the knowable world, and it is seen: to an attentive mind, propose the evidence concerning any truth that respect the invisible world, and in proportion to the strength of that evidence, it is believed. Whatever persuasion is taken up against evidence or without it, is blind presumption, or romantic imagination, and not Faith.

Faith is as much the effect of evidence, as sight is the effect of sensible impression; nor is the one more absolutely dependent on its cause, or more closely connected with it, than the other. It is a law of our nature.

What sight is in the natural world, with respect to things visible and present, Faith is in the spiritual world, with respect to things absent and invisible: to believe, on sufficient evidence, is as natural as to perceive: and in thus believing, there is nothing more unreasonable, inexplicable, or indefensible, than in seeing with our open eyes the prospect that presents itself before us.

Faith then is a principle no more peculiar to religion in general, than it is peculiar to the Christian religion in particular. Even those who are most likely to treat it with ridicule and contempt in the disciples of Christ, are themselves obliged to act upon it every day and every hour of their lives: it is the very principle which, in the ordinary affairs of life, regulates and governs by far the greater part of their thoughts, their affections, and their conduct.

Faith is the principle upon which men resolve and act; there is no other principle that has so constant and extensive an influence upon them. You cannot even go to a place where you have never been, but it is by Faith you go thither. You cannot seek a person you have never seen, but it is by Faith you seek him: the most trivial and most important actions of our lives are almost all equally dependent on it.

Even our moral conduct, in the most serious and most momentous instances, rests on Faith as its foundation. 

The objects to which our knowledge can extend are very few; when the sphere of our affection and activity go beyond these, it is Faith, not knowledge that carries out our views, our passions, and pursuits; it is Faith that directs, supports, and animates them.

Since Faith is a reasonable principle, we have no cause to be ashamed of it.

It may not be improper to observe, that however natural and just the distinction is between faith and reason, it ought not to be made without some caution and restriction.

A great part of what we ordinarily call reason, is indeed faith; and faith is itself an act of reason. To believe upon sufficient testimony, is one among many other characteristics of reason and intelligence.

If Faith is a reasonable principle, we need not be afraid of pursuing it through its consequences. 

Nothing but what is right can come of what is reasonable; it must diverted from its natural course, or corrupted by some foreign intermixture, before it can dictate or induce to what is wrong. If our Faith is the pure result of evidence, it will give us comfort, and do us honor, to show it in our works.

(Adapted from a Sermon by Rev. Newcome Cappe, 1733-1800)

Sunday, September 22, 2019

THE PARABLES: Is Our Faith Built On A Rock, Or Sand? #JesusFollowers


Could a familiar parable of Jesus actually be teaching the opposite of what most pastors teach us about our Good Works and Eternal Life?

Jesus taught his disciples, and all others who came to hear him, using simple stories – parables – that, despite being simple and relatable, also tended to shock those who heard them.

To read the parable of the house built on the rock with new eyes and fresh ears may be shocking to many Christians who are used to hearing a rather watered-down interpretation. 

Viewing this parable in its clear form is uncomfortable to hear, and perhaps that’s why it and its messages is avoided or touched on so lightly by today’s pastors.

Jesus says: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27/ESV)

A "Faith on the Rock" means one in which good works – DOING what Jesus tells us to do in his teachings – actually matters, and are required for entry into God's Eternal Kingdom. This flies in the face of much teaching from today’s Pastors, but Jesus’ words are clear, and can mean nothing else.

The parable cannot simply mean “right belief” or the mere assent to man-made doctrines. Jesus elsewhere condemns "vain words/empty phrases" (Matt. 5:7) and in a verse just previous to this story, we are told by Jesus that not all those who simply shout, "Lord, Lord" but do not follow his commands will enter into the Kingdom.  But only “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21)

And just so that he was clear – and that by “the Kingdom” we would understand that he was referring also to Eternal Life – Jesus elsewhere answered the question, “what must I do to obtain eternal life,” with clarity: Obey God’s commandments. (Mark 10:17-19; Matt. 19:16-17; Luke 18:19-21)

Mere belief in a set of theological statements or accepting stories ABOUT Jesus is not all God asks of us.

And in truth, Jesus taught that our Eternal Life begins HERE, with the earthly establishment of God’s Kingdom. (Matt. 6:10) Our final destination with God, however, is judged by God alone, and it is according to our Works alone, though we do not judge or own fitness for Heaven. (Psalm 62:12; James 4:12; Matt. 7:1; 16:27)

Jesus himself in this parable says we must “DO” the will of God, our Father, by obeying Jesus’ commands, or we will not be fit for God’s Kingdom.  Jesus tells us he did ALL things our Father and his Father, God, told him to do; and he assures us that we, too, may do all that he did. Therefore, he is our perfect example and model in all things.

We, today, cannot avoid or explain away this or any other message our Master tells us, even if it makes us uncomfortable or challenges us to do Good Works and serve others, just as Jesus did.

If we claim we love Jesus, but choose NOT to hear AND DO what he says, we've built our lives on shifting sands, not the Rock of his words. (1 John 2:4) We honor Jesus with our hearts and minds and actions, therefore, when we seek to do what he modeled for us to do with his life and teachings.


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Are We Born Corrupt And "Evil"? #JesusFollowers

We are by nature, when we are born into the world (since we come from the hands of the Creator) innocent and pure, and free from all moral corruption. We are also destitute of all positive holiness; and, until we have, by the exercise of his faculties, actually formed a character either good or bad, an object of the divine complacency and favor.

The complacency and favor of the Creator are expressed in all the kind provisions that God made of things given for our improvement and happiness. We are by nature no more inclined or disposed to vice than to virtue, and are equally capable of either, in the ordinary use of our faculties, and with the common assistance afforded us. We derive from our ancestors a frail and mortal nature; and are made with appetites which fit us for the condition of being in which God has placed us.

We have passions implanted in us [at birth] which are of great importance in the conduct of life, but which are equally capable of impelling us into a wrong or a right course. We have natural affections, all of them originally good, but liable by a wrong direction to be the occasion of error and sin.

We have reason and conscience to direct the conduct of life, and enable us to choose aright, which reason may yet be neglected, or perverted, and conscience misguided. The whole of these together make up what constitutes our trial and probation. They make us accountable beings, able to make a right or wrong choice, being equally capable of either and as free to the one as to the other.

But what of "human depravity?" The question is not whether there is a great deal of wickedness in the world, but what is the source of that wickedness; not whether mankind are very corrupt, but how they become so; whether it is a character born with them, or acquired; whether it is what God made them, or what they have made themselves.

It is easy to bring together into one picture, and place in a strong light, with exaggerated features, all the bad passions in their uncontrolled and unqualified state, all the atrocious crimes that have been committed, all the bad dispositions that have been indulged; but the picture, though it contain nothing, but what is found in us, will be far, very far, from being a just picture of human nature.

Let all that is virtuous, and kind, and amiable, and good, be brought into the picture, and presented also in their full proportions, and the former will be found to constitute a far less part of it, than we were ready to imagine.

Innocence, and simplicity, and purity are the characteristics of early life. Truth is natural; falsehood is artificial. Veracity, kindness, good will flow from the natural feelings. Duplicity, and all the cold, and selfish, and calculating manners of society are the fruit of education, and interaction with the world. We have marks enough of a feeble, helpless nature, calling for assistance, support, kindness; but we see no proofs of depravity, of malignity, of inclination to evil in preference to good.

By our natural birth we only become human, accountable beings. We receive by natural birth only the human nature. We receive no moral character, but only the faculties and powers, in the exercise of which a moral character is to be formed. 

The formation of this character introduces us into a new state of being, and by whatever means, and at whatever time it takes place, we may be called "a new birth." And those who have thus acquired a moral character, and received the principles of a spiritual life, in addition to the natural human life, may be said to be born again.

We have certainly no cause to feel ourselves humbled under a sense of anything that we are by nature. We have occasion to be ashamed only of what we have become by practice. For the nature God has given us no sentiment but that of gratitude is due. Humility and self-condemnation should spring only from the consciousness of a course of life not answering to the powers, and faculties, and privileges of our nature.

Adapted from the writings of Dr. Henry Ware

Sunday, September 8, 2019

What Did #Jesus Mean By "Judge Not?" #JesusFollowers


"Judge not, lest you be judged." (Matt. 7:1)

People who know almost nothing about the teachings of Jesus seem to know that he said, "judge not."

It's is often used by those who are uncomfortable that others are pointing out their bad behavior, and many others view it as a warning to us not to judge anything or anyone. Consequently, it is used as a deflection to avoid criticism, or to attack concept of criticism itself.

But if we were to use no judgment at all to assess our actions or the actions of others, we would be at the mercy of everyone who expressed an opinion.

We would be unable to judge the worthiness of an action before we took it, making us susceptible to every uninformed whim of emotion that confronted us.

The world is filled with those who are selling ideas and products. If we took "judge not" at face value (and far out if its context) we would not be able to resist any sales pitch or any temptation that confronted us, because we would like the judgment to do so and feel that judging would be wrong in all cases.

And if we assumed “judge not” meant that we could not warn others who were about to make a serious mistake in their lives, or help correct someone who was factually wrong, then the world would be (even more) a place of moral chaos.

But the actual context of this saying of Jesus shows that he is addressing hypocrisy, not criticism. And he guides us to prepare ourselves to judge correctly the actions and choices we see around us.

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."

Jesus is warning us against pointing out other's flaws while ignoring one's own flaws. but by no means does he say that we should never warn people that they are about to make mistakes or urge them to live in a different manner. Nor is he making a statement about never using, or building up, our own good judgment.

Jesus himself called out the hypocrisy of the religious elites of his day, the Pharisees. He said they were living outwardly pure lives but inwardly impure ones. He judged the Pharisees.

He attacked the practices of the Temple system in Jerusalem, saying it was not serving God in a pure way by focusing so much on selling animals at a profit to use as Temple sacrifices. He judged the religious leaders.

He told many to stop sinning, repent, and turn to God. He urged him to live holy lives even if that meant great sacrifice. He judged them.

“Watch yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3)

Jesus calls on us to address our own imperfections so that we may be able to help others overcome theirs.

He wants us to live rightly so we can judge rightly. And he wishes us to prepare ourselves so we can help others.

"Do not judge according to appearance," says our Master. "But judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)

What Jesus was urging people to do was to develop a sense of good and sound judgement. That comes to us first by seeking to inwardly change our own lives so that we may then live as a light to the rest of the world. Only then can we show that we are living examples of the kind of life that Jesus modeled for us.

And Jesus has faith that we may do this.

He says, "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher." (Luke 6:40)

So, while we are never to judge harshly or as hypocrites (failing to do what we are calling on others to do) we are nonetheless called by Jesus to model this good behavior for others, telling them about the teachings of our Master, and calling on people to obey everything he taught. This is his Great Commission (Matt. 28:20)

Let's go do this!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Clear Gospel of #Jesus. #JesusFollowers


The clarity of Jesus' Gospel is obvious to all who read his words. The life, teachings and example of Jesus are a clear window onto the Will of God. We do not need to complicate it or make it mysterious in any way.

Jesus lived, taught and died as an example, so that we would follow it and achieve spiritual completion, just as he has done. That is the core of his Gospel - his Good and Beneficial Message to all the world, for which he was chosen, anointed by God and sent into the world to preach.

Jesus is the moral example by which we are able to follow in order to reach spiritual completeness. He perfectly models for us how to serve and to love others the way God wants us to love and serve others.

There is nothing greater than the teachings of Jesus. His words and teachings were not his, but they came from God (John 14:10) who Adopted him as his son at his baptism, anointing him with His Spirit, choosing him among all other sons of men to not only teach, but to BE his teachings – our exemplar in all things.

Jesus said his actions always pleased God (John 8:29) making him our perfect example in all things.

The wonderful message of the Gospel is this: That WE can do all that God asks of us, because another of our kind, Jesus, was able to fully follow God’s commandments and Will for our lives.

But to do as he has done, we must believe that Jesus left us an example that we can really follow.

Jesus teaches: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” And assures us, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 14:15; 13:15.)

Jesus is for us our Model, our Template, our Guide, our Teacher and our Master.

We are first saved from sin by knowledge of his teachings – that we must repent of our sins, turn our faces to God, and walk in righteousness. When we repent of our sins and pledge to walk in God’s righteous paths, we are forgiven by God, who is, “merciful and gracious, long-suffering – forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin." (Exodus 34:6-7)

The Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus tell us that God forgives our sins simply upon sincere repentance.

Jesus tells us God wishes us to repent of our sins – to be sorry that we committed them, and to cease committing the act of sinning. But without a change in our behavior following this, there is no repentance. Without repentance, we are not following Jesus or serving God.

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

Jesus clearly calls us to a life of Good Works, done in humility and compassion. Service to others leads us to Spiritual Completeness.

"By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk the same way in which he walked." (1 John 2:5-6.) 

Jesus challenges us to become Spiritually Complete by actively seeking and DOING Righteousness, relying on God’s holy Spirit to strengthen us and give us courage to do what is right, and true, and just.

Each of us can grow within us a Spiritual Abundance that gives light and hope to the world, and advances God’s Kingdom here and now, in this place.

Let us take up the challenge Jesus makes clear for us in his Gospel’s words and teachings!

Sunday, August 25, 2019

#Jesus Calls Us To Use Our God-Given Gifts #JesusFollowers


Throughout his teachings, #Jesus spoke to the great, powerful gifts given to human beings by God, and how we are to use them ACTIVELY to do Good for others.

Jesus, in his parables and sayings, explains that to us much has been given. Much, also, is required of us in return. By this way, we become the mature and perfect Beings that God wishes us to become.

His Parable of the Talents shows this most clearly. We are given gifts by God and are called to use them. Putting them in the ground, or keeping them unused, isn't profitable to the Kingdom of God, nor does it grow our spirits.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that we have both the ability and duty to act to serve and love others, even strangers.

Jesus says that we, as young children, are pure in spirit, able to love the way God wishes us to love as adults (Matt 19:14)

Jesus called us to bring forth good treasure from our hearts and turn it into Good Works in the world (Matt. 12:35.) God is the Author of our first measure of Goodness in our hearts. He calls on us to nurture and replenish it daily.

Jesus says that we may seek the spiritual completion (perfection) of God (Matt. 5:48), that we may forgive as God forgives, and that we may be as merciful as our Father in Heaven is merciful (Luke 6:36)

Knowing all this, we can't call Jesus our lord ("master") and ignore what he commands us to do. He has made it clear that God has equipped us to do Good Works, and calls us to go serve others to the best of our natural, God-given abilities.

Giving of ourselves is not a zero-sum game. Serving others, as Jesus calls us to do, doesn't empty us, it fills us, with joy. Helping others brings us closer to God and to emulating the example God gave us, Jesus, who he anointed and chose at his Baptism for that purpose. We are likewise chosen and sent out to act, daily building up God's spiritual Kingdom.

Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30.) That’s complete and total love that is demonstrated in our active Good Works, not just lip service or weak emotionalism that fades by Sunday afternoon when the churches are empty again.

Jesus and our Heavenly Father, God, have become for many mere SYMBOLS - psychological crutches on which we throw all our work and give THEM our moral tasks. Millions drive to churches to chant and praise Jesus' name and "finished work", all the while, averting their eyes as they pass the homeless, the sick, the discouraged, the grieving widow, the hungry, and the ill-clothed living among them. And we wonder why most people under 30 view traditional Christians as hypocrites!

"Do less" or "do nothing" are easy to sell to today's pew-dwellers, especially Americans. Jesus, by contrast, said we are capable of doing Great things, and called us to go do them. Jesus Followers who hear his words and obey them will seek to actively serve others, using their God-given gifts.

It is clear from the teachings of Jesus that we were created for a purpose: to do more - to do ALL WE CAN - to serve and love one another. This is the reason why we were saved by Jesus from the ignorance of our true Nature, in order to be the beings that God created us to be.

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 Jesus preached.

Our Nature isn't that of creatures so damaged that we cannot turn our face to God and repent of past misdeeds or weaknesses. Our Nature is of Beings who were created with Free Will, able to know and understand our true mission, outlined clearly in the words and demonstrated perfectly in the life of one of us: Jesus. He says this is the way of God. Why would we second guess him?

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.