Sunday, November 27, 2022

THE SERMON OF SERMONS – Using Our God-Given Salt #JesusFollowers

Jesus said: "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world.... 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. 5:13-16) (ESV)

We are called by Jesus to be salt and light – salting the earth with goodness and enlightening it with righteous deeds But if our salt has become tasteless, what then?

What if we act without righteousness, or are so infrequent in our Good Deeds, that having they become pointless? Worse, what if we simply ignore Jesus’ call, because we have come to believe that this salt and light are unnecessary, never to be used at all in our lives?

Jesus spoke to challenge us and calls us today to be examples in his name. As God’s chosen Prophet and Spokesman, Jesus authoritatively calls us to take up his challenge and to follow his example.

We are called to show by our ACTS that we are heeding his call, and are taking up his challenge – not in a prideful way, but in a way that is pleasing to God, our Creator.

Coming in the middle of Jesus’ powerful Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew, this is a clear and unambiguous call for us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world – letting our light shine before others.

It’s vital to understand that Jesus believes we are capable of doing Good Works for others in his name. In fact, he says we MUST seek to do these Good Works, if we claim to be his followers and wish to still call him “Master.” Some have denied this is necessary, but to deny what Jesus clearly says makes his call meaningless, and the salt worthless.

We've been given the gifts of salt – among them, the gifts of Jesus’ holy example and our God-given ability to choose righteousness over wickedness. But if we allow those gifts to become stale, either by throwing them on the ground to be trampled or pretend that we lack the ability to use them to do Good, then we've failed.

We've been given gifts of light – among them, Jesus’ teachings and our God-given ability of reason and knowledge. But is we convince ourselves that using them to serve others is unnecessary, or convince ourselves that Good Works are merely OPTIONAL things we do if we feel like it – then we make the Good and Beneficial Message (Gospel) of Jesus into a mockery.

Clearly, Jesus calls us to do good and great things to glorify God, our Heavenly Father, and as a fully human man himself, he has shown us that we, as human beings, are fully able to do great things on behalf of others. Let there, then, be no excuse to hide our gifts!

Sunday, November 20, 2022

The Jesus We Need To Hear Again #JesusFollowers

Should we be actively building a better and a more Godly world, or should we simply do nothing and wait for God to make it better?

Should we seek our own advantage, or put other's needs ahead of our own? 

Should we do Good things, or just call ourselves "good?"

If we read the words of Jesus, the answers to these and other questions are clear. But if we listen to today's church, their answers are unclear.

The teachings of Jesus are clear, consistent and powerful.

Jesus said his words would last forever - would not pass away. And his teachings about how we should act in this world were clear.

But modern Christianity is bogged down with man-made words and man-made doctrines that muddle Jesus' message.

They speak words Jesus never uttered: "Justification," "Sanctification," "Total Depravity," "works-salvation." But these words give birth to doctrines that make Jesus' religion a toxic one - one that is easy, lazy, and pointless.

Jesus never said that children are born "unable not to sin." Instead, Jesus tells the disciples to allow children to come to him, since they represent the purity of God's Kingdom.

Jesus never even hinted that human beings couldn't perform Good Works from birth. Instead, he says we MUST seek to do Good Works - deeds of the heart that help our neighbors and show them love.

Jesus said we are to begin acting NOW to build up God's Kingdom, "on earth as it is in Heaven." We aren't to wait for any special signs from God, or to wait at all.

We are justified, says Jesus, not by our vain words, or our intentions alone, or even by faith alone, but rather by our acts, which are judged only by God. 

Jesus says we become holy by DOING what is holy, good and righteous. Holiness and Righteousness are ACTS we do, not a mere THING we can get by simply claiming Jesus' holiness as our own, as some teach. 

Jesus calls us to turn the other cheek, to not seek our own advantage, to follow the narrow and difficult path of his religion, and that those who seek to be first will be last. Modern preachers, however, often say we must only seek to get our SELVES into Heaven, and that it can be done easily, without effort.

Our goal isn't even  to simply to "save" ourselves, says Jesus. Those who seek to save themselves, in fact lose themselves. But if we deny ourselves, and lose ourselves in serving others, we gain victory, both eternally and in this life.

Far from condemning Good Works, Jesus calls us to do them, without pride, because Godliness is our natural state. 

Jesus assures us that we will be judged by God according to our Works - the deeds of our hands - and even then, we'll be judged by a merciful and holy God. Our Works will light the world, and reflect our spiritual journey towards Righteousness as we repent for falling short of the Ideal Jesus sets for us with the example of his life.

That is a path Jesus calls us to seek and follow, in his footsteps. And it's a path that is easily understood even by a child.

By twisting and adding to Jesus' simple words and teachings, modern theologians and ministers make Jesus confusing and strange. He becomes someone who cannot be understood without the help of a Priestly class.

Jesus never meant to be seen, "through a glass, darkly." Jesus is a window we can look through to see how God wishes us to live.

Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him, to do JUST AS he did, and do even greater things than he did. 

This isn't the call of someone who condemns Good Works, who says "wait for God to act, don't act yourselves," or someone who wishes us to simply admire his righteousness, but not emulate it.

When we begin to see Jesus as an example we can follow, he becomes a Master we can also love as a brother.

Let us go out and work Righteousness in this world, doing all we can to be an example of the light of God that was born within us, kindled by the example of Jesus, our teacher.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

In Praise of Reason #JesusFollowers

Some view Reason as opposed to God, and its use as somehow usurping, insulting or opposing Him, as if Reason was by its nature opposed to God.

But Human Reason must be seen as a gift of God, which He implanted within us for us to discover, using the other gifts which He entrusted to us.

We should never base our opinion of a thing based on a false judgement of it, or by the worst belief someone holds of it.

Human Reason can, if not truly reasonable, lead us astray. It can lead us to believe we are greater than the creator, that Reason is itself greater than that which created us, and it.

Once it’s considered to be such a thing, it is condemned, but falsely, since that’s not human Reason IS.

Reason and Faith are not opposed to one another, but are instead both necessary for us to understand God and God's will for us.

Rationality walks hand-in-hand with Spirituality. When irrational elements of religion are stripped away, we may focus clearly on the mission God's Anointed One, Jesus sends us to do.

God gave us Reason and the ability to obey Him, and Reason is a God-given gift we must use to discern His Will.

Just as we ought to not condemn someone based on others’ opinions of them – or mere rumors ABOUT them, which often are not true or are based on false assumptions, biases or slanders – we ought to assess Reason in its truest and purest form, rather than the worst assumptions about it.

Many do the same for the Religion Jesus left us. They consider all the horrific things done it its name, the abuses done to people, the wars, the complicated and contradictory doctrines – and assume them to be the highest version of that religion. Then they say, “See, these examples ARE the religion of Jesus, therefore, we must reject it.”

Such things SHOULD be rejected, but to assume that this is the True Religion of Jesus is to start with a false assumption.

It would be as if we judged a tree in autumn, with its leaves fallen out or yellow with age to be “dead,” not knowing about, or deliberately not remembering, the vibrant greens of spring.

Those who have rejected God, also often base that rejection on only the worst aspects of the Christian religion: the toxic additions of men, not the purity of its founder, Jesus.

So too, rejecting the Godly faculty of Reason, it’s been said, prepares one for worse and worse delusions. [Channing, Discourse, 1826]

The teachings of Jesus are reasonable. Jesus calls us to love God with all understanding (Matt. 15:10.) Jesus reminds us that God wishes us to “love the Lord your God with ALL YOUR MIND” (Mark 12:30.) We cannot fully love God, therefore, unless we use ALL of the understanding and knowledge God Himself gave us, and continues to give us.

Reason in fact plays a huge and important role in God’s religion, as expressed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. And just as Reason finds a place, so also is Wisdom, knowledge and understanding greatly praised by scripture, though often, as in Jesus’ time, they are degraded by men who are assumed to be “wise” in religious knowledge.

We must fully embrace the Reasonableness of the Gospel that Jesus has taught, just as the former Prophets of God testified to God’s wisdom and knowledge, which He shares with all of us when we seek it.

When Yahweh says, “Come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18) He expresses his desire to engage and converse with us, His creation, and make reasonable terms by which we may be His children.

In the Proverbs, we read, "By wisdom Yahweh founded the earth. By understanding, he established the heavens. By his knowledge, the depths were broken up, and the skies drop down the dew. My son, let them not depart from your eyes. Keep sound wisdom and discretion: so they will be life to your soul, and grace for your neck. Then you shall walk in your way securely. Your foot won't stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid. Yes, you will lie down, and your sleep will be sweet." (Proverbs 3:19-24)

We are to use our gift of Reason, just as our gifts of wisdom and knowledge, to walk in the way of Jesus, who walked perfectly in the way of God. Our feet stumble less when we adhere to the correct path, guided by these gifts.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Stepping off the “Roman Road” and Following the Path of Jesus #JesusFollowers

Over the past century, Conservative Christianity is created it's own version of what Christ Jesus taught, and has very little to do with his actual words.

Here is a typical online description of the “Roman Road”: “All you have to do is accept that Jesus is your Savior, that you are a sinner, and he is the only way to get to heaven. The bible passage for the Roman Road to Salvation, Romans 10:9 says this: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. Romans 10:9”

This Roman Road then explains the consequences of sin. Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." This refers to spiritual death and separation from God for eternity.

Next, this Roman Road teaches how God has provided this instant version of salvation. Romans 5:8 states, "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." While we deserve death, Jesus has offered a way of life. He alone has provided a sufficient (and easy) answer to the sin and spiritual death we face. 

The Roman Road then teaches how we can receive this easy salvation. Romans 10:13 adds, "For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'" Salvation is available easily and instantly to anyone who will turn to Jesus for eternal life (John 3:16). This occurs when we believe Jesus is Lord and that He literally came alive again from the dead.

Finally, the Roman Road shares the results of salvation. Romans 5:1 declares, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." The result is a relationship with God. This includes peace (Romans 8:1) and eternal  security (Romans 8:38-39).

What’s missing here? Except for the quotation of John 3:16, out of context, Jesus’ words aren’t included in this method of salvation.

And what did Jesus say about this alleged “Road?”

Of course it was devised long after his ministry. But he did have something to say about Easy paths and Wide Gates like this. “NOT EVERYONE who says to me, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, ONLY those who do the will of the Father will enter.”(Matthew 7:21)  So much for merely calling upon the name of the Lord to “get saved.”

Also, in The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had warned, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is Narrow and the way is HARD that leads to life, and those who find it are FEW.” (Matthew 7:13-14) The Roman Road is advertised as an easy way to salvation, guaranteeing our seat in heaven by merely saying a few easy words.

How strongly this contrasts with what Jesus preached about a life serving him would be like! He portrayed it as a difficult yet rewarding struggle that ended in the Kingdom of Heaven. Doing the will of the Father means denying ourselves, leaving family behind, serving others as we would want ourselves to be served, and living and serving God completely.

Contrary to those who follow this Roman Road, Jesus clearly calls us to do good works and serve others with those good works, and explicitly says we will be judged by God by our works not our mere intentions or even our vain words.

Jesus calls on us to repent of our past misdeeds, and echoed John the Baptist’s preaching, ”bear fruit worthy of our repentance.” (Matthew 3:8)

All of his ministry is very far from this alleged Roman Road, and far from the preaching of today’s Conservative Christian ministers, who are preaching a very different Gospel than the one Jesus preached.

In fact, the  one time Jesus addressed personal salvation, (Mark 10:17-22) he told someone who wished to have eternal life to keep the Commandments.

Let's do that instead.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

We Are Not "Born Sinners" Compelled To Disobey God #JesusFollowers

How many times have we heard, after someone makes a mistake, or acts sinfully, “Well, he was ONLY HUMAN, after all”? Perhaps many times. But do we ever wonder why this is used as an excuse for a sinful action? Is there something IN US that MAKES us sin against our will?

There are a lot of clever excuses we can use to avoid doing what's right – or even actively doing what is wrong. We can say others around us “forced” us to do these things – and peer pressure can indeed be a strong factor. 

We can say we couldn't avoid doing them – and if we put ourselves in situations in which sin is happening a lot, that can certainly influence us. And we can also say that we were born so flawed that we CANNOT do anything BUT sin and rebel against God – that we are “only human.” 

This last excuse is perhaps the greatest lie to ever infect Christendom - and the vast majority of Christians today believe it.

If it’s true, just BEING among those pressuring us means that we will indeed cave in to sinful behavior every single time. But that’s not true. We CAN resist, and Jesus and the Bible teaches us that we can, and must, do so.

It's important to know exactly what "sin" is. John said he wrote his letter so that people "will not sin" (1 John 2:1.) That's not to say that we are going to immediately stop all sinning once we are exposed to the teachings of Jesus, but early Christians clearly expected new converts to make all effort to put behind them the sins they previously committed unthinkingly. This was true of stealing, lusting, cheating others, lying, and more. 

If what's being called "sin" is inherited from our birth, it cannot properly be called "sin", because sin is an Act, not a Thing. If it is a compulsion from birth, causing us to be unable to resist sinful behavior, then we cannot morally be held guilty by God or even by any human judge, for acts we cannot avoid committing.

But if sin is a choice, and we can avoid it, we must. Turns out, just a few verses into the Bible, God told Adam's son that sin is a choice, and that he had the ability and responsibility to avoid it. (Gen. 4:7-8) That he chose falsely means he earned the punishment God warned him about. We learn from this that only an individual’s ACTS of sin are punishable, and we learn from another verse that we are not liable for the sins of anyone else, including Adam's (Ezek. 18:19-24.)

In the Genesis story, Adam's very own son had the ability to not sin. Sin, therefore, cannot be inherited and passed down through either a man's "seed" or a woman's womb to us. That false doctrine was created 400 years after Jesus's birth by a man named Augustine, who believed that physical sex between parents transmitted a "sin nature" to children.

We must trust God when He told Cain - and all humans that came after him - that we NEED NOT SIN, and instead, must work to not sin any longer,  asking for God's forgiveness, which is granted freely upon repenting of our past behavior. 

We are assured that God has given all people the ability to stop sinning (Deut. 30:11-14; 19) and that we have Jesus as our example that a human being need not sin, and that we in fact can obey God. Jesus’ example is a model upon which we can and must shape our actions.

We must trust Jesus when he said we must seek Godliness and that we could become Godly and complete – certainly not by ourselves without God or without God’s chosen example, but with God's ongoing help and with the example of Jesus always before us. 

We are called to commit our lives in obedience to God's chosen Son, Jesus, the Anointed Son of God, and submit to humbly walk with him, relying, as he taught, on God's grace and forgiveness and growing into the Righteous Perfection that God knows we are capable of achieving.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Real Reason So Many Turn Their Backs on God And The Church [#JesusFollowers]

A recent survey found that 81% of Americans believe in God. While that sounds high, it's actually the lowest percentage ever recorded by the survey, which has been taken periodically since 1944. For most of that time, over 90% of Americans believed in God.

The numbers match another disturbing trend. The fastest growing segment of religion in the US are the "Nones." This group isn't a denomination, or even an organized group at all, but they identify with "none" of the organized Christian denominations, traditional or otherwise.

Surveys routinely show that Americans without a religious affiliation (which include 'nothing in particular', agnostic, and atheist), sometimes referred to as "Nones" range around from 21% to 31.4% of the population, with 'nothing in particulars' making up the majority of this demographic. In some states in the US, like New Mexico and New Hampshire, this group consists of up to 49% of the population.

Many have clearly turned their backs on organized religion as a concept, while others are just disgusted with the seeming rejection of science and Reason by people of Faith, and others, sadly, have turned their backs on God as a Being entirely, seeing Christians as well as the God they worship as angry, hypocritical, and judgmental.

Since the early 1990s, independent polls have shown the rapid growth of those without a religious affiliation. A 2018 Barna Group study shows 35% of Generation Z to be Nones.

Many conclusions can be drawn from these statistics, most often is the conclusion that young people simply don't like joining organizations.

But like Mahatma Gandhi, many Nones seem just as likely to be saying, "“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Many conservative Christians have not dared entertain the notion that it's their doctrines that youth and adults alike are rejecting in huge numbers.

The belief that we as humans are born sinful, unable to do any good for ourselves and certainly not able to please God with anything we do with our works, it's good solid Reformation teaching dating back to the 1550s, but doesn't stand up to scrutiny when reading the actual words of Jesus, who grew up steeped in Hebrew scripture learning and was never taught this doctrine, so consequently never taught it to his disciples.

Additionally, youth have always struggled with the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, which the Reformers accepted without daring to  question it. Yet, the belief formed no part of Jesus' teaching, and he explicitly never mentioned it as something important for us to believe and accept in order to be granted eternal life.

Instead the core of the Gospel books paint Jesus as a human man adopted and specially anointed at baptism by God to perform a mission, a mission which he performed perfectly and called all of us to follow exactly in his footsteps. This actual Gospel of his is not spoken of today by any of his alleged followers who wear robes and call themselves Fathers in ministers.

So, how can we reach the Nones? Why not actually preach the Gospel that Jesus preached to his disciples? Why not preach an active, engaging and life-affirming message that tells us, and them, that all of us are born capable of greatness and are called by Jesus to fulfill that which God created us to become. We have the moral ability to turn back to God and serve and love him fully and completely with all our heart and soul and mind and spirit, in love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This is what Jesus and his gospel calls us to, and it's a winning message in the 21st Century, just as it was in the First Century. 

Once unshackled by centuries of false, man-made doctrine, Jesus will become for us all an older brother whom we can actually follow, not a demigod we must simply worship every Sunday in order to gain entrance to heaven.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Repenting/Turning to God IS the Gospel of Jesus #JesusFollowers

The doctrine of repentance and remission of sin were what Christ Jesus was chiefly concerned to publish to the world; because as humanity was far from conforming their minds and lives to that rule of righteousness which ought to have been the measure of their actions.

Jesus not only called upon sinners to repent and turn to God, and do works fit for repentance, but he also plainly and expressly declared this was the very end and purpose of his coming.

To preach this Gospel, and to preach the doctrines of repentance and remission of sins is for Jesus are the same thing; for what he calls preaching the gospel at one time, he calls preaching the doctrines of repentance and remission of sins at another.

Jesus has pointed out to sinners no other way to the Divine mercy and forgiveness, than the good old way, namely, by repentance and reformation of their evil ways, which always was, and always will be the true and only way for sinners to obtain the divine mercy. This is the way which God by his prophets previously pointed out to the sinful nation of Israel.

Thus Isaiah says: “Wash yourselves, make yourself clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do well. Seek justice. Relieve the oppressed. Judge the fatherless. Plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17.) Which is the same as if he had said: though your sins are many and great; yet upon your repentance and reformation they shall be forgiven.

Jesus requires and recommends a conformity of mind and life to that rule of action which 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.

He also laid down some general principles of action, namely, the doing as we would have done to us, the loving of God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and the loving our neighbor as ourselves (from general principles, since they are founded in reason.)

And this law o reason is fitly called the law of Christ, as he specially and strictly requires our compliance with it, and declares that compliance to be the sole ground of divine acceptance, in distinction from, and in opposition to that law of ceremonies or positive institutions which Moses had delivered to the Jews, and which therefore was called the law of Moses.

He also represented to us the good and bad consequences which would most certainly attend our compliance, or noncompliance with this law, with regard to the favor or displeasure of God, and their safety or miscarriage in another world.

In his most excellent Sermon on the Mount, after he had shown what attitude and behavior his Disciples and followers ought to put on, and what to avoid; he then represented to them the mighty consequences which depended upon such their attitudes and actions.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’” (Matt. 7:21-24.)

Here we see as great pretensions – professing Jesus, prophesying in his name – this availed nothing; because they were lacking in that which upon their acceptance with God solely depended; namely, conforming their attitudes and actions to the law of righteousness.

By believing in him, it is clear that Jesus did not mean a bare assent to the truth; but he means by it the attending to that message which he was sent to deliver to the world, and the governing our minds and lives according to it.

(Adapted from “The Gospel of Christ Asserted,” by Thomas Chubb, 1738)