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Long ignored by Christian ministers as quaint or out-of-date, Jesus' call to "whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" (Matt. 7:12) summaries his entire ministry and the Hebrew Bible's teaching.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.