Sunday, June 26, 2022

We are Broken, But Not “Born That Way” #JesusFollowers


Many of those around us, and also ourselves, are frequently hurting, struggling, confused, and yes, broken, by our circumstances and experiences.

And when we seek out our religious leaders for answers, many tell us that we are defective by Nature, “totally depraved” or “broken” from birth, morally unable to do Good, even if we wanted to.

Some claim that, from our birth, we are slaves to a base, “fallen” Nature that we can’t control, and that only the magic remedy of a “simple salvation prayer” can fix us.

BUT DON’T YOU BELIEVE IT! The Bible and the teachings of our Master, Jesus, actually tells a vastly different story than the crafty theology of later men.

The Bible tells us that King David, who was broken himself from living recklessly and Godlessly, turned back to God, repented of his sins, and lived blamelessly, with “clean hands” before God.

David, after repentance, says, “I have been blameless before Him and have kept myself from sin.” (Psalms 18:24) So may we, as well.

The Bible shows an entire city, Nineveh, turning to Yahweh, the One God of Israel, and repenting of their sins, and receiving forgiveness from that One God. If pagan Nineveh can turn and do Good, we can, too!

And what about Adam? Did his sin in the Garden “curse” us with the inability to choose to do Good? No. We find no curse or excuse to avoid doing Good in Adam's story.

Adam’s own son, Cain, was told by God that he would be rewarded if he did what was right, and that he COULD and MUST do Good.

“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door; it desires you, BUT YOU MUST RULE OVER IT.” (Gen. 4:7)

There is therefore no hint of a curse making us morally unable to do good in the Adam and Eve story.

Jesus tells a parable of a young man who, after squandering his family’s wealth after demanding his inheritance early, returns to his father in a spirit of repentance and receives forgiveness.

The Bible repeatedly tells us that the condition of sinful disobedience is just that – a failure to obey God’s Moral Laws for living. And that the only remedy for that failure is to repent, and seek to DO Righteousness.

“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean. Remove the evil of your deeds from My eyes. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good,” urges Isaiah (1:16-17)

“Do what is right and Good in the sight of Yahweh,” (Deut. 6:18)

“Trust in Yahweh (the LORD) and do Good.” (Psalms 37:3)

“Turn from evil and do Good. Seek peace and pursue it. (Psalms 34:19)

The Book of Job instructs, “The righteous will hold to their ways, and those with clean hands will grow stronger.” (Job 17:9)

The clear lessons of the Bible teach that we may be broken right now, but we certainly weren’t “born that way,” and we should not remain that way.

The experiences of Jesus teach us that human beings do, indeed have the ability (and the responsibility) to recognize when we are on the wrong path, and repent of it.

We can seek, as Jesus proved by his life, to grow in wisdom and in spiritual strength, enduring whatever life throws at us, by relying on God’s plan for our lives (a plan which is nothing more, or less, than following His path of Righteousness.)

Suffering ups and downs in life is completely natural, says the Bible, and so is overcoming them.

Further, Jesus’ own life teaches us that we as human beings can thrive even when persecuted, although most of us don’t have to go through the verbal and physical abuse HE endured, certainly.

In fact, Jesus taught a Gospel of ACTIVELY DOING RIGHTEOUSNESS. That, and only that, was his message, which he described as the way we are to bring in God’s Heavenly Kingdom right here on the earth, right now.

And unlike all other previous prophets, and all religious leaders since, Jesus set himself up as a MODEL for imitation. “Follow me,” doesn’t mean just walk behind Jesus, admiring him, but to actively pursue Righteousness through doing Good, as he demonstrated for us.

He tells us to “deny your Self” and actively, and daily, “take up your cross” (Mark 8:34; Matt 16:24) by serving others. We are to clothe the naked, give food and drink to the hungry and thirsty, and visit the sick and those in prison. (Matt. 25)

If this Gospel message of his sound like a challenge, it is. It’s the challenge Jesus gave all who follow him, and if you failed to detect our “fallenness” in his words, or an excuse of “moral inability” to do Good that would allow us to avoid taking up this challenge, you didn’t miss it. Because t’s not there. He never said it. And neither do the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures he quoted and studied as a youth.

It’s not in his words because it’s not in our Nature. Our Nature is meant to be perfected through Righteous action, just as God and His scripture, through His prophets, and as His Son, Jesus, spelled out clearly for us to imitate.

And if you somehow missed that message in your church last Sunday, you need to ask WHY you didn’t hear it.

Because the world needs that message of healing and help. And it needs it RIGHT NOW.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

What Does God Think We Can Do? #JesusFollowers


Just a few verses into the Hebrew Bible, in the book of Genesis, there is a well-known story that has valuable lessons that, if better known, could change the way we understand God, our human abilities, and our responsibilities as God’s children.

The story of Cain and Abel – well known as an allegorical tale of brotherly strife – begins with both brothers offering up a sacrifice to God. Abel offers up animals on an altar, while Cain offers fruits and vegetables. However…
"[Yahweh] didn’t respect Cain and his offering. So Cain was very angry, and the expression on his face fell. And Yahweh said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires you, but you must rule over it." (Gen. 4:5b-8)
The story goes on to tell how the angry, confused Cain sought out and murdered his brother Abel. God then finds Cain in hiding, and asks him where his brother was. Cain answered with that well-known line (as if he was innocent of the crime) "Am I my brother's keeper?" God then punishes Cain by marking him for all eternity.

So, what lessons does this story teach us, today, about human beings, and our abilities?

First, God laid out two paths of action to Cain, equally offering acceptance (to be “Lifted” in the Hebrew, meaning exalted) if he had chosen to do what was right.

God also told Cain he had the ability to RULE OVER or “master” sin, if he chose to do it.

God’s offer of acceptance to Cain, and the choice he was given, prove that he had the ability to do what is right – and so do we.

But this simple lesson has been invisible to many religious teachers, who have long denied that we as human beings have the ability to choose to do what is right.

Some – living hundreds of years after Jesus' ministry – taught that Cain’s father, Adam (the first human being, along with Eve, in the book of Genesis) sinned against God. This, they say, caused all of his descendants, including us, to be UNABLE TO AVOID SINNING.

They also taught that this inability was passed on to us through our ancestors when they had sex. This is the teaching of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and all modern Protestant and Catholic churches.

If this is true, then we are powerless to avoid sin – and powerless to do what God commands us to do.

But the actual words of this story blow apart these man-made theories.

Cain, the very child of Adam in this story, had the ability to NOT kill Abel, had he chosen that option. He was assured by God that he could CHOOSE to not sin, and in fact, said he MUST do so, to avoid punishment.

This story teaches us volumes about God’s nature, as well as human nature. God created us to obey His moral commandments. And because God is our Creator, He knows of what we are capable, and calls us to seek out His holiness and obey Him.

Rather than telling his disciples that we could do nothing EXCEPT sin, Jesus – the one whom God chose as our example and teacher and anointed as His spokesman – taught them, and through them, us, that we are to be "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48)

And the one who said he did all things that pleased God also said that we must follow him, doing all that he had done. (John 13:15; 14:12)

In saying this, Jesus echoed all the Hebrew prophets who had come before him - because he did not teach anything new about our ability to obey God that was not already known.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, we are assured that God's commandments are, "not too hard for you," and "The word is very near you. It 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)

The Psalmist writes: "Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges the earth." (Psalms 58:11)

“He has shown you, O man, what is good," writes Micah (6:8)

We are called upon to "Hate evil, and love good" says Amos (5:15)

"Choose this day whom you will serve," says Joshua (24:15)

"If you choose, you can keep the commandments; and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. Set before you are fire and water; to whatever you choose, stretch out your hand. Before everyone are life and death, whichever they choose will be given them." (Sirach 15:15-17)

Therefore, while sin may be waiting by the door for us, seeking to master us, we may indeed defeat – and master – sinful temptations. We HAVE THAT ABILITY, given to us by our Creator!

If we have damaged this ability because of our past behavior, God will grant us greater moral strength when we ask (Psalm 138:3; Prov. 2:6; James 1:5)

That we have this ability born within us is amazingly good news, because it shows that our Creator knows us, and still gives us the freedom to act and choose to obey Him freely!

Through the teachings of our Master, Jesus, we know that God is like a parent, Who allows His children to make mistakes, repent, and turn back to doing what is right and good.

We should thank God, our Creator, in Whose image we were created, for trusting us to make our own choices, and let's pledge to always take that awesome responsibility seriously in all that we do.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Jesus Shows Us Our Human Potential #JesusFollowers

When we think about ourselves and our fellow human beings, we often think of how much we have yet to achieve, not just physically or as a species, but spiritually and morally as individuals.

We know that we are spiritually incomplete, and we are often at a loss as to what our next steps should be to advance ourselves.

We innately know that we can and should be better than we are. We also know that human beings have great potential within us.

However, Christian preachers, especially Evangelical ones, tend to view the very words "human potential" as anti-religious language.

The "human potential movement," of the past century, which does focus on humanity apart from any religious aspects of our lives, hasn't made this a difficult conclusion to draw.

Christian pastors and theologians have long said that many are trying to reach their full human potential without God in the picture. and they are right to point out the futility of striving without God. 

But it can easily, and more positively, be argued that Jesus himself, and the Hebrew Bible that he grew up with and studied as a youth, understood and accepted the fact that human beings had great potential, and explained in great detail how to reach it. In fact, his teachings almost shout the concept that we were created for something better by our Creator.

For example, Jesus says that we are to be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect. And while modern Evangelicals tend to interpret this to mean that we will BE perfected, "one day," in heaven, or when we are "made perfect" by God, apart from any effort of our own, Jesus didn't seem to mean this. 

In fact, the preceding paragraph in the Book of Matthew spells out actions that we are to do over and above what others do, when it comes to loving not only those who love us, but our enemies as well. 

Luke also record Jesus as saying that we are to be merciful, just as our Father in heaven is merciful. In this very teaching, not only is he saying we are able to be as God is, but he teaches us that God is merciful with those who are trying and seeking to do His will.

We know this because elsewhere, he says we are to forgive 70 times seven times (in other words, endlessly) and that if we expect to be forgiven by God for OUR shortcomings, we must forgive others theirs. (Matt. 6:14-15)

And Jesus demonstrated such radical forgiveness as he hung dying on the cross, forgiving those who had put him there.

In these ways, we begin to reach our full human potential in imitation of Jesus himself. And that is a key to understanding our potential as human beings.

Unlike a regular philosopher or a mere teacher who might have said some good things that were recorded in history, Jesus not only taught, but gave us a living example, of how we are to live in accordance with God's will.

He showed us how a perfect human looks in real life. And then he said, "follow me." And not simply to follow him around to DIA, but to "Go, and do likewise" and even "do greater things than I." And finally, "go into all the world, teaching others to obey my teachings."

We can therefore set the preachers' minds at ease. We will not, and cannot, seek to do God's will and become all God wishes for us to become, apart from God's help and the knowledge of what that Godly path is. And that path was made clear by the life and example of Jesus.

We are born with an amazing potential for goodness, and for greatness. This potential must be recognized as a gift of God, and it is reached by seeking to follow our Creator's plan for our lives. 

To do this, we need only follow the teachings of the one whom God chose for us as a perfect example - someone who pleased God with all he did, and in doing so, achieved his full potential as a human being. We may be assured by his life and words that we may do the same.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Is Human Perfection Possible? [JesusFollowers]

"If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Matt. 19:16 NIV)

When the various appetites and passions that take place in man are constantly and uniformly directed to, and placed upon, their proper objects and when each and every one of these are kept in due bounds, one not indulged to the suppressing of another such a creature may be said to be perfect.

When the springs of action in us, namely selfishness and benevolence, hope and fear, and the like, are duly balanced, so as that one isn't greater than the others; and, when all these, together with the principle of activity or self-motion, are wholly subject to that principle of intelligence which is likewise a part of the human constitution, and which was intended to guide and direct the whole; then, according to his nature, this is called human perfection, not in distinction from, but considered to be the same as, Christian perfection.

The design of Christianity was to engage us to act the part, and to fill up the just and proper characters of human beings; and. not to enable us to resemble the characters of Angels. The design of Christianity was to make us good people; and not to make us more or better than human beings; and therefore, Christian perfection must be the same as human perfection.

Great riches are likely to engross the hearts and affections of those who possess them, and this shuts up their tenderness and compassion to the rest of their fellow-creatures. And although a person's benevolent actions ought to be proportioned to his wealth and riches, and to the needs and circumstances of his neighbors; Jesus knew, as we do, that great possessions and great benevolence seldom meet in the same person; and this justifies our Master's remark to the rich young man.

People like the young man he referred to are too ready to rest satisfied with not having done evil, whereas, our Master assures us, that as great a regard must be had for doing good, as for simply not doing evil, and that not actively doing good will render us just as blameworthy, and condemnable. "For I was hungry, and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you didn't take me in, naked and you didn't clothe me, in prison and you didn't visit me." (Matt. 25:41)

A benevolent disposition is the most noble and God-like part of our Nature, and, is therefore called the perfection of it. Jesus clearly states (Luke 6:36) "Be merciful (or kind, or benevolent) just as your Father is merciful." and as is recorded in Matthew, 5:48, is the same as to say, "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." When Jesus called us to be the kind of tree that bear good fruit (Matt. 7:17-18) he makes it clear that we have the ability to do good and become morally perfect: "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the Tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit." He notes that we must build treasure in Heaven and in our own hearts, so that "a good man brings good things out of the good stored within him." (Matt. 6:20; 12:35) 

Jesus requires a conformity of mind and life to that rule of action that is founded in the reason of things; and makes or declares that compliance to be the sole ground of divine acceptance, and the only way to life eternal.

And, to prove this proposition, the young man's question, that he put to Jesus, namely, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" And likewise our Mater's plain and full answer to this important question was, "If you would enter into life, keep the commandments." (Matt. 19:16-17)

So that to be perfect, according to the plain sense and meaning of our Master, Jesus, is to put on such a benevolent disposition, as will dispose and engage us to pursue the good and happiness of our neighbors as well as our own, and so far as we have power and opportunity for doing it; and if the circumstances of things require it, to part with our all, in this world, for their sakes. "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions an give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

 (Adapted from "An Enquiry Into the Ground and Foundation of Religion" by Thomas Chubb)

Sunday, May 29, 2022

We Are Here To Do Great Things! #JesusFollowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Jesus’ High View of Human Nature. #JesusFollowers

Jesus uniformly expressed high views of human nature. It was over the perversion of its gifts, the abuse of its powers, that he mourned; but it seems never to have been his delight to magnify human guilt.


He found something in human nature, even in its humblest or its most distorted developments, worthy of love. You see him gathering around him little children, pressing them to his bosom, speaking kindly to them. He could not look upon the unwrinkled brow, the fair countenance of childhood, and contemplate the child as an object of God’s displeasure.

Look at his interactions with his immediate followers, how perseveringly obstinate was their hold upon long cherished prejudices! How slow were they to enter into his spirit, and to yield themselves to the full power of his instructions! Yet how patiently did he work with them! How kindly did he apologize for their lack of zeal in his cause! True it is, that he fearlessly rebuked sin; but in what spirit did he rebuke it? With the utmost compassion.

We look to the Reformers, who have appeared in different periods of the Christian church. We see in many of them high powers, determined hearts, and persevering efforts, qualities, which claim for them great respect. We see none, however, unbiased by local interests and prejudices.

Jesus stands at an immeasurable distance from them all. W see none, who are actuated by a generous, unmingled love, like that which Jesus manifested.

By the honest friends of Christianity, many devices have been invented and practiced to give power and interest to its instructions. The terrors of the Lord have been proclaimed, in the language of power acting for destruction. The passion of fear has been used without restraint, and all the passions associated with it have been addressed.

The power of party has been tried, and so has that of pomp, of show and of boasting, of forms and ceremonies, of fasts and prayers. But has the power of love been uniformly, and extensively tried?

Has the true spirit of Jesus ever yet been fully exhibited, either by his ministers or his church? I fear that it has not; and that even some good men are most woefully deceived as to the tendency of their own influence.

Here I see, what the spirit of Christ is, what the fruits of his influence are; and I utter in sorrow the deep conviction of my soul that the spirit of pure love, as it appeared in the teachings of Jesus, is not found extensively abroad for the reformation of the world.

Without this spirit, zeal may work with all the power of passion, sect after sect may put forth its rival claims, and missionaries may travel the globe; but the world will continue to writhe under the tortures of sin, and souls will continue to perish.

(Adapted from a Christmas Sermon by Rev. Nathan Parker, 1831)

Sunday, May 15, 2022

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