Sunday, January 22, 2023

Repentance And Reformation #JesusFollowers


Jesus did not propose or point out to us any new way to God's favor and eternal life, but on the contrary, he recommended that good old way which always was, and always will be the true way to life eternal; namely, keeping the commandments, or the loving God and our neighbor which is the same thing, and is the sum and substance of the moral law. (Matt. 19:17; 22:37-40)

This plain path-way to heaven lay neglected, and for the most part unfrequented; men both Jews and Gentiles having forsaken the fountain of living water, that is, the true way to life eternal; and shown to themselves cisterns - broken cisterns that can hold no water; that is, they had found out new and false ways of recommending themselves to God.

And this rendered our Savior's undertaking and ministry so much the more needful. And therefore it was truly said of him that he was to be not the maker, but the restorer, of right paths to dwell and walk in.

Jesus requires and recommends a conformity of mind and life to that unalterable rule of action which is founded in the reason of things as the only ground of divine acceptance, and as the only way to life eternal; so if men have lived in a violation of this righteous law by which they have rendered themselves displeasing to God, and worthy of His just resentment.

Secondly, Jesus requires and recommends repentance and reformation of their evil ways as the only ground of the divine mercy and forgiveness. The doctrine of repentance and remission of sin were what Jesus was chiefly concerned to announce to the world.

 "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:3)

As to the doctrine that Jesus has, by his sufferings and death, made satisfaction to God for the sins of the world, and thereby merited the sinners discharge from condemnation, this doctrine Jesus did not preach, and therefore it cannot be any part of his Gospel, but it is directly opposite to it, and tends to subvert it.

The true doctrines of the Gospel of our Master and Savior Jesus Christ concerning this matter are the doctrines of repentance and remission of sins; that is, repentance and reformation is the only way to the divine mercy.

"For if you forgive others their trespasses," says Jesus, "your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matt. 6:14-15)

Let not therefore the sinner trust nor rely upon the vain words of men, but let them trust and rely upon the words of our Master, Jesus, who was sent by God to be their guide and instructor in this particular, and who, they may be assured upon good grounds, will not deceive them.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Thomas Chubb)

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Called By #Jesus To Serve Others First! #JesusFollowers

More than anything else, following the path that Jesus sets out for us means serving others first.

Contrary to nearly Universal popular opinion, accepting the way of Jesus is not primarily a self-centered means by which we can personally, and effortlessly, get ourselves into heaven, or a way to simply enrich ourselves here on earth, at the expense of others.

In fact, the teachings of Jesus tell us explicitly that those who seek to be first, and that those who seek personal gain above others, will be last in God's Kingdom.

"Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:27-28)

"The greatest among you shall be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matt. 23:11-12)

"And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 8:39)

God, our Father and the Creator of all things, has chosen (John 1:34) and anointed (Luke 4:18) this man, Jesus, to be our perfect example in all things, showing us of what we are capable.

We are called through the example and words of Jesus to seek to do righteousness, to forgive others just as God forgives us, to be good examples to others, and to bring God's Heavenly Kingdom into the Earth through our daily actions.

This, and this alone, is the Kingdom that Jesus preached, and we should seek everyday to conform ourselves to it.

It's clear that Jesus calls us all to a life of action and Good Works on behalf of others. Every one of our actions in our daily lives should show to others how God wishes humanity to relate to one another and to our Creator.

We are called to act selflessly, in the service of others. And Jesus left us a template by which we can act as God wishes us to act here on this earth.

We are called, not to judge, or to only mouth praise to God or to Jesus, nor to hope someone else acts, but instead, we are ourselves called to act righteously and justly in our dealings with others.

The example of Jesus - a human being like ourselves - shows us that we are ABLE to act, and have from birth the moral ability to act, on behalf of others. And it is our duty to do so, without excuse.

Feed the hungry; clothe the naked; comfort the sick; welcome the stranger; visit those in prison. (Matt. 25:31-39) Jesus never shirked his duty to serve others, even washing the feet of the disciples as a sign of his humility and how he was living as a "ransom" to others. (John 13) 

When others teach, and preach, that we can serve OURSELVES first, or that we may enrich ourselves without caring for others, or that God can be used exclusively to grant our material, selfish desires, it becomes easy to forget who our Master is, and that because we have one Master and one Teacher (Matt. 23:8-10) Jesus' words alone are to be our pathway to the life God wishes us to live. 

Jesus calls us to follow his example in all things. Let us commit to doing this, collectively as followers of Jesus and on our own in our daily lives.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

The Gospel Of #Jesus Is A Challenge To Serve Others #JesusFollowers

 

In his ministry, Jesus challenged all those around him.

He challenged the religious authorities who led a faith of empty ritual and mindless words to instead embrace an authentic faith of love and devotion.

He challenged the wealthy to give up the idol of money.

He challenged those who would exclude the weak, the poor, the “outcast” and the outsider to be fully inclusive, because God loves all people equally. (Luke 4:12-13)

And Jesus challenged average people to “come, follow me,” and change the world with their works of Righteousness. (Matt. 4:19)

Jesus’ teachings, when seen as the core of his ministry, challenge us today, as well.

In fact, the Good News that Jesus preached is nothing but a challenge to our comfortable lives. It challenges the lazy faith which is based on mere words and devoid of love of others or Good Works on their behalf.

It’s a challenge to us all, individually, to begin to reach our full potential, by living the way God wishes us to live – lives of selfless service and love.

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, but gain eternity.

Jesus preached to challenge us, and calls us today to live as examples in his name. As God’s chosen Spokesman, Jesus authoritatively calls us to take up his challenge and to follow his example.  (John 13:15; 14:12)

We are called by Jesus to seek and do Good, in order to advance God’s Kingdom on this earth.

Jesus lived, taught and died as a pure moral example for us, so that we should follow him and be made perfect in Righteousness. We do this with God’s help and a reliance on God’s holy Spirit.

And we are required, on this journey of Faith, to always seek God's forgiveness for our faults and failures as we strive towards the perfect expression of Righteousness God's Anointed Son, Jesus, has modeled for us.

We must seek to follow Jesus in ALL his teachings – because Jesus followed God in ALL things, and said we could do all that he had done. (John 8:29; 12:50; 13:15; 1 John 2:6)

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.

Jesus clearly calls us to an active Faith - a Faith that Works. His teachings, his Gospel, is a challenge worth accepting and worth LIVING, because it leads to directly to a spiritually complete life and, God willing, to eternal life with our Creator.

Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30.) That’s complete and total love, not just lip service or weak emotionalism.

Jesus calls us to love each other, our neighbors, with the same zeal with which we love God – a complete and total love. (Mark 12:31)

Jesus calls us to deny ourselves take up our cross and follow him. (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23.) We are to be “other-centered,” not focused on Self.

Jesus calls on us to do the will of the Father – His God and our God, the Creator of all that is. (Matt. 12:50; John 5:30) Mere words and vain professions are NOT enough to ensure eternity with God (Matt. 7:21.)

Jesus calls on us to forgive others, and makes this duty a condition of being forgiven by God (Matt. 6:15-16.)

Jesus calls on us to let our Good Deeds shine like lights in this world, so that others will see by that light the goodness and love of our Father and Creator, which He has placed within us all. (Matt. 5:15-16)

And Jesus calls on us to “go the second mile” (Matthew 5:38–42) which is not a challenge to be lukewarm or partially committed to serving others.

When we encounter what is being claimed to be “the Gospel,” if it fails to challenge us to pursue Good Works, we know that it's a false and easy Faith we've encountered – a wide gate, rather than the Gospel preached from the very mouth of Jesus.

That Jesus challenges us with incredibly high goals is undeniable. That he believed we could achieve them is proven by his words. And because Jesus, a human being like us, has done this, we are assured that we, too, may accomplish God’s will for our lives.

So let’s take up the Good News of Jesus’ challenge in our lives and let it shine within us for all to see!

Sunday, January 1, 2023

The God of Second Chances #JesusFollowers


Jesus teaches us about the God of Second Chances, and with every new day, and new year, we face fresh opportunities to turn back again to God.

When we come to the knowledge of God's will for our lives - that we should love God with all our heart, mind, strength and soul, and love and serve others just as we love and serve ourselves - we have embraced a new beginning, and undergo a New Birth. We are saved from sin.

Mere knowledge, however, is not enough. Mere verbal or mental assent is not enough. Emotional fervor and good feelings about God are not enough. God, our Creator, calls us to act, and do, and become better, more Spiritually complete people who reflect the people that He created us to become.

Repentance of our past sins and shortcomings gives us a clean slate - we indeed become "white as Snow" when we first ask for forgiveness and repent. But then we must commit to strive to keep ourselves clean and unspotted from a world that has not yet embraced the love and purity of God's path.

While we have not yet achieved moral completeness, all of us are called to seek it. Those who continue to recklessly sin and rebel against God's moral Law does not know God, nor the one whom God sent, Jesus.

Jesus demonstrated with his life, teachings and death the way we should respond to God's gifts. Jesus' example is our model and template.

If we follow the example of Jesus, our lives may become just as full, complete and pleasing to God as his was.

Jesus calls us to a life of Good Works, done in humility and compassion. Service to others leads to spiritual completeness.

We must approach his example with fear and trembling, and with great humility, and not arrogance. And of course, always seeking forgiveness from God our Father and Creator for our shortcomings.

If we seek forgiveness from God, in true repentance, then our past sins are forgiven. If we then remain in his Teachings, Jesus says we will be saved by God.

After repenting and accepting the knowledge of God's path Jesus reveals to us, we are challenged to actively live out this Faith.

But God doesn't leave us to face this challenge alone. We always have the example of Jesus, and we also have God's ever-present spiritual comfort, always there to guide, encourage and hold us tightly during times of trouble and trial.

And God has implanted within us the seeds that can grow and become a visible representation of the Kingdom of God - in this place and in this time. Knowledge of God's moral plan for our lives, shown to us by Jesus, germinates those seeds and they are nurtured by his example and God's ongoing love and strength.

Each of us can grow within us a Spiritual Abundance that gives light and hope to the world.

Let us greet every new year, new month, new day, new hour, and every new minute as a precious opportunity to serve God and our neighbors in God's name!

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Let Us "Welcome" The Adult #Jesus Too! #JesusFollowers

 

Today, on Christmas Day, we "welcome" Jesus into the world along with Christendom. This is a Jesus we already know, a man fully grown and with whom we are more than acquainted.

This isn't a baby we must perpetually welcome into our homes. In the rest of the Gospels, we are confronted instead with the adult Jesus.

Meeting this adult Jesus is difficult for many, and even frightens them to meet him as an adult and not a helpless, unassuming child, a God-man who need only be worshiped, not a master we are compelled to obey.

The adult Jesus scared the religious elites of his day because of what he asked, just as he scares the religious elites of today.

Jesus is an adult whom we must each decide whether to ignore, or to serve, as God intended us to do.

If we claim his name, and wish to be identified with it, we must not assume that admiring a baby in a manger is what God wishes. We must not delude ourselves that admiration - or even worship - is alone sufficient. We cannot ignore the adult Jesus, or prefer the baby instead of the adult.

The adult Jesus is hidden away by the religious elites. He scares them.

A fully human Jesus, fully grown, with a clearly understood, fully formed mission and a challenging religion of Good Works, scares them EVEN MORE!

So this adult Jesus isn't celebrated at Christmas. At all. And he rarely, if ever, makes an appearance the rest of the year, either.

So, just who is this Jesus?

Jesus, the adult, was of course born a baby, but he was born fully a human, of human parents, just as we were born. (He was recognized as such in the Gospels by his neighbors, by the Disciples, and by his parents.)

He grew in the knowledge of God and gained wisdom; he pleased God in all he did. When he became an adult, he was chosen at his baptism and anointed by God to be our Master, our Teacher, our Template and the Example of how a human being should live for the glory of God and most beneficially for our fellow human beings.

This Jesus is not the one created for us by Priests whom we must simply admire and worship from afar; unable to obey, unable to follow because he is so different, so distant, so alien.

We may instead celebrate the Jesus - a man called and chosen by God - whom we can fully love as our elder brother, and the one whom we can actively follow as our example in all things. We may become more like God because one of us has done it already, setting the example towards which we may strive.

Let us remember the birth, but also the adult life, of THIS Jesus, a Jesus worth celebrating on this Christmas Day, and every day.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

What Is Our True Nature? #JesusFollowers

 

A minister on the radio was heard saying that humans beings are all, morally, "condemned criminals" in need of "radical surgery." Holy mixed metaphors, Batman! Not only was that metaphor a language crime, it was theologically criminal, as well!

Fortunately for us, he is wrong. In fact, Jesus teaches just the opposite. Jesus, just like the Hebrew prophets before him, consistently taught that we are all free to choose either to do good or to do evil, and that we will be held responsible for those choices when we stand before God.

Let us quickly dispense with the idea that we are all condemned criminals. The only ministers who say this too readily discount the idea of our Heavenly Father's vast mercy, or are deliberately hiding this wonderful aspect of our Creator.

Of course, what this minister was really trying to imply is that we are all born under an imaginary curse, one that somehow makes us unable to do any good to please God, and that we are therefore born already condemned in the sight of God. 

This is scripturally false and logically nonsense.

That God made us free to choose and liable for our choices is one of the best attested facts of scripture - both the Hebrew scriptures and the words of our Master, Jesus, whom God chose to be our example and teacher in all things.

To claim that we are so damaged that we can do no good; that we cannot follow Jesus and do as he calls us to do, are man-made excuses for our failure to obey.

Not to mention, it makes Jesus into an unreasonable master, for commanding what (according to those ministers) cannot be done by us. That would mean that God knows we cannot do it, but had Jesus tell us to do these impossible tasks anyway. To "convict us." 

If God did this, and of we could not act Righteously, God would be the author of our sins, and an unfair judge. He would be solely responsible for our sinful actions, and not us, if we were unable by our very nature to obey what He and his chosen son have so clearly laid out before us to do.

It would also mean that Jesus was a liar, and his teachings calling is to do Good would be a mockery, too.

Without our freedom of Will and freedom to act, there can be no judgement of our actions by a moral God. But the good news is that we were created with the ability to choose.

This ability means that our choices have eternal meaning, and that the Good we do is not just a forced choice made by a domineering God, but instead, is a joyful and grateful response to God's love.

The Hebrew Bible is filled with examples of God giving us a free will and the freedom to choose. The story of Adam and Eve is all about our Free Will and ability to choose, and the Jewish people have always understood it that way.
Adam's poor choice didn't damage his children's, nor his descendants' ability to choose right from wrong. In fact, God is portrayed in Genesis as telling Adam's own son, Cain, that he had the freedom (and the duty) to do right or to do wrong, and to take the consequences of either choice. That, alone, ruins the concept of our alleged "moral inability" to do good, because of Adam's Sin.

King David is shown in scripture as sinning and doing evil deeds, but he repented, and God forgave him. He says in the Psalms that he stood after his repentance before God with "clean hands" and with righteous actions.

Isaiah teaches that we are to wash ourselves and make ourselves clean. If we are totally unable to do good, then what could this possibly mean?

Therefore, it is abundantly clear that the Hebrew scriptures teach nothing else except that we have the ability to act and to do good, and that we are commanded by God, our Creator, to do exactly that.

Jesus, also, teaches us that God wishes us to have willing hearts and to follow the path of righteousness through our actions.

We are, like King David, fully able to repent of our past mistakes, and to stop doing them, as in the story of the woman caught in adultery demonstrates. Jesus said, "Go, and sin no more." No radical surgery was required on her, simply a determination to repent to do good, instead. Radical action was required of her - and she was able to do it.

The kingdom of God is built through our deliberate righteous actions and good works done in accordance with the teachings of our Master, Jesus.

So, we see that the minister's foolish statement about "radical surgery" is another theological falsehood. While our wills may have been damaged by our past actions, that can no way mean that we have no ability to turn our lives around by reaching out to God and repenting. Jesus teaches that all may repent, and indeed must repent, of past mistakes, which are a falling short of the high standards God wishes for all of us.

And again, all the Hebrew Prophets and Jesus taught that sincere repentance is all that is required of us to begin turning our lives around toward godliness.

The Gospel that Jesus preached is a challenge to reach our full potential - how God wishes us to live our lives. The fact that many do not know that the Gospel is a challenge, and are unaware that Jesus' Gospel is fully contained in his words, doesn't make them criminals sentenced to death eternally. 

Instead, it makes them imperfect, because they are, out of ignorance, not following God's perfect path of righteousness. This ignorance is because wicked ministers have not taught them this Truth.

Those who are living imperfect lives don't need radical surgery as much as they need a radical reassessment of their lives. And they should be informed that there is a better way: to seek to live their lives in accordance with God's will. 

And those who are living an easy faith without challenge, who believe that good works are impossible (or something that we need not even concern ourselves with) fall grossly short of Jesus' teachings, often warping them beyond all recognition, or worse, ignoring or minimizing them.

These ministers, and their flocks, perhaps need a radical new faith, based on the challenging, joyful teachings of our Master, Jesus, who says emphatically that we are capable of doing all that he asks us to do and that we may do all that he has done. THAT is the True Gospel message. It is one worth sharing.

Knowing that Jesus pleased God in every way, and said that we may do the same, shows that God and the one He chose as our example have far higher confidence in us human beings than many ministers do.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

There Is Nothing Mysterious In the Gospel [#JesusFollowers


Our Master, Jesus, left us a legacy of hope with his words, his life, his teachings and his death. All that he did and said are an example to us of a life lived perfectly for God. In this, Jesus was clear that he was not hiding anything from his disciples. Nor is anything hidden from us today.

Jesus said: "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for EVERYTHING that I learned from my Father I have MADE KNOWN to you." Matt. (15:15)

And Jesus said: "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven HAS BEEN GIVEN TO YOU." (Matt. 13:11) "Because whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open." (Mark 4:22)

This was not true for some religions of the ancient Roman world in which Jesus lived. For some, faith was built around a "mystery." Priests of these "mystery religions" were charged with revealing the secrets of the gods to those who had been initiated. Only then were these "mysteries" unfolded to the one who had committed to worship the deities that were the focus of those religions.

But Jesus and HIS Gospel were different.

Jesus revealed ALL THINGS to his disciples during his lifetime, and did so openly.

There was nothing that remained hidden, nothing left out. There were no "mysteries" left to unfold or reveal after the ministry of Jesus ended.

Just as he spoke to his disciples, Jesus speaks to us today - through the simple, clear teachings in the Gospels. We follow Jesus and obey God with our eyes wide open, with our full understanding, as well as with all of our hearts and minds.

Jesus calls us to repent of our sins, to seek to live righteously and in a Godly way, to forgive others, to love and pray for our enemies, to do Good Works (in humility) and to love God and serve others in God's name. He says we will be rewarded according to our deeds alone, judged by God alone: we are not to judge ourselves or each other. That, and nothing more, is the Gospel.

The Gospel Jesus gave us wasn't lacking in anything when his ministry finished with his death on the cross. We need no further explanations, no further revelations, and no interpretations, in order to determine what we must do to please God.

The clarity of Jesus' message is obvious to all who read it. The life, teachings and example of Jesus are a clear window onto the Will of God. We see through the glass, clearly.

Jesus challenges us to do all that God asks of us, and has given us an example we can actually follow.

He points us to God, calling us to repent of our sinful acts, seek forgiveness, and live the way God wants us to live. In his teachings, he echoed the spirit and words of the Hebrew Bible.

God continues to grant us all the strength, love and support we need to continue growing into Spiritual Completeness and maturity.

We are told by Jesus to "do as I have done" and to "follow my example." We are not to hide our good works under a bushel basket, but to Do Good, and do so in humility, not simply to be seen by others.

Accepting this knowledge of God's path which Jesus reveals to us, we are challenged to actively live out this Faith as friends and followers of Jesus.

Let us do so with faith, humility and joyful obedience to God, who sent us Jesus to reveal His will to us!