Sunday, August 7, 2022

A Faith in Jesus That Challenges Us to Be Better! #JesusFollowers

 A few years ago, a young man named Jefferson Bethke posted a video on YouTube and later followed it up with a book, “Jesus [is greater than] Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough.” He was wrong on all counts.

The urge to simply have faith and then do nothing is very alluring and seductive. It's the very WIDE GATE and easy path of which Jesus warns us. The urge to make excuses for our inability to serve God as Jesus calls us to do is very strong, and it’s a very old message indeed. But it’s a call to half-serve God, and it’s a repudiation of the message God called and anointed Jesus to preach to all humanity.

If you are not actively seeking to walk as Jesus walked, you are not a follower of Jesus. You may be an admirer of Jesus, or a flatterer of Jesus, but not a follower. Jesus calls us to a life of holy struggle and humble service, not a life of shallow words and false phrases. He challenges us to be better than we are, not remain as we were before we met him.

"Come just as you are" to Jesus. But expect to change and be changed by his words, life and example. He was meant to be followed, not just admired - he urged us to obey God, not to simply shower him with flattery.

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 be Righteous, to serve God not money, to lose ourselves and gain eternity.

Jesus' call for us to count the costs, then pick up a cross, go the extra mile, expand our 'talents' to serve others, and being the Good Samaritan cannot have meant for us to seek a life of leisure and ease. It's a call to action. If we say we love Jesus, but don't hear what he says, we've built our lives on shifting sands, not the Rock of his Words.

The Gospel that Jesus explicitly taught isn't a call to merely have belief in him, but it's a call to serve God, to follow Jesus' teachings, to love others just as we love ourselves. His Gospel calls us to serve and act, not sit and contemplate, nor to simply admire Jesus or even to worship him.

And since there is deep confusion among Christians today (sown by folks like Mr. Bethke) let there be no mistake: We are equipped from birth by God to begin the works Jesus calls us to accomplish. We have the ability to recognize Truth, the ability to know right from wrong, to do Good, and to serve others, as Jesus calls us to do. 

When we repent of our sins, and commit to stop sinning and serve God, then our Heavenly Father will equip us further with wisdom, with hope, with courage and with the strength to endure anything.

If we fail to grasp the simple, clear and profound message of Jesus, we will have fallen prey to the error of "easy believism"  - the wide road that leads to a failed and worthless faith, rather than a fulfilling one that actively fills the world with love, hope and light.

Anyone calling us to a faith of easy belief, of a faith without Works, of emotion without action, of a hope of Heavenly rewards without our hands engaged in helping others, is calling us to "another Gospel" that is false, and "another Christ" who is an imitation of the original Jesus.

The clear, challenging religion of Jesus that he first preached is far superior and far more profound and Godly than all the superstitions, mythologies, complexities and unimaginable nonsense men have attached to it ever since. It's time to return to Following Jesus and serving Jesus' God in spirit and in truth.

A faith that fails to challenge us to bold, radical service isn't worth having. A free gift is worthless if it's never open and used as it was designed. Jesus offers us such a faith, such a gift, if we would only open it and act upon it.

Let us, then, act.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Jesus: A Teacher Unlike Any Other! #JesusFollowers

Jesus stands as a unique figure in world religions. To follow Jesus' teachings is to accept a challenge that is unlike any other religious teacher, because he is unlike any other teacher. 

No other teacher has called us to live lives of radical love - a love that dares equate what we give to our neighbors, to strangers, and even to our enemies, to what we give our SELVES. (Mark 12:31)

No other teacher has called us to live lives of radical service - a service that leads us to think of Others first, to deny our own needs, to care for all who are suffering and in need, and to always do more than is required. (Mark 8:34; 9:35; 10:43-45)

And no other teacher has called us to live lives of radical obedience - serving God completely, repenting of our past sins, seeking Heavenly, rather than Earthly treasure, and striving to live in complete and perfect obedience to God's will. (Matt 4:17; 6:19-20; 28:20)


No other teacher has set himself up as a perfect example for us to follow. Jesus says he always did what was pleasing to God, and he calls us to follow him in all things. (John 8:29; 14:24)

Jesus is a God-anointed teacher, and not "merely" a teacher, though merely a man, like us. Jesus, unlike any other religious figure, calls us to imitate him. He says we can do all that he has done, and calls us to a challenging, active religious life. (Acts 2:22; 13:23; John 13:15; 14:12)

The words he spoke were grounded in his Father and ours, God. God’s moral teachings were shown in Jesus’ teachings more clearly and purely than in any other human being.

To call ourselves his friends and followers, then, is the most important thing we can say, because these teachings of his are the most pure, most Godly and therefore most important teachings ever shared amongst the human race.

Jesus said he shared all things with us, saying, "I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." (Matt. 15:15)

And Jesus taught that to preach God's good and beneficial message (Gospel) was the reason he went out to the villages of Judea. It consisted of his entire mission, and that was the only thing he came to do. (Mark 1:38; Luke 4:18-19)

To speak of Jesus' blood saving us in some way apart from obedience to his teachings is meaningless. Unless we honor both the life that his blood sustained, as well as his teachings that revealed God's will for our lives, we are not changed by Jesus and our hearts are not turned back to obeying God's moral Law.

His life and his death serve equally as examples of supreme love and self-sacrifice, because Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends," and also, "You are my friends, IF you do as I command you." (John 15:13-14)

Everyone who hears his precious teachings, says Jesus, but does not act on them, "will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand."

The Gospel IS Jesus' teachings. It can be based on nothing else, and no other man's Gospel than the one Jesus preached can be put in its place. We, therefore, have one master, one Gospel and we serve one God, the God Jesus himself worshiped and calls us to love with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

The Piety and Example of #Jesus. #JesusFollowers

The effectiveness of teaching by example has always been known. In order to have the right notions of our duty, it is important not only that principles be laid down for our direction, but that we are shown how they’re to be applied to our character and conduct.

And when an example is presented in a light which interests, there will be awakened an involuntary feeling of emulation, a desire of resembling the character which we are taught to admire and love.

In this view, the life of our savior, Jesus, is the key part of the moral system of the Gospel. He came to be the example as well as the teacher of human beings. In order to become this, it was necessary that he should be placed in situations like ours; that, bearing the infirmities of our nature, encompassed by our needs, and exposed to our temptations, he might mark out by his own conduct the course in which we should all walk through trial, difficulty, and danger.

And his condition in the world was indeed like that of a common man, though it was one of extreme exposure and suffering. We may follow him like a brother in frailty, and danger, and trouble, from the manger where his infancy was laid, to the tomb where he slept to be troubled no more.

He was tried like us, by hunger and thirst, and then by festivals and feasts. He was persecuted by enemies, then surrounded by affectionate friends. Sometimes he was insulted and reviled, sometimes was received with shouts of joy, and eagerly followed by multitudes who would raise him to earthly power.

Same in nature, though not in degree, with those of our life; like these are the occasions on which we are commonly called to show the strength of our regard to God, and the sincerity of our dispositions to serve him. While our situations of trial distantly resemble his, the way in which our savior lived presents a pattern for our imitation this is both perfect and attainable.

This view of Jesus’ character, as one of common life, as one which we may imitate and resemble is important. I hope, that by dwelling on a few of the modes in which his piety expressed itself, we may better know our own duties.

The first thing to be noticed in respect to his piety is his devotional frame of mind. It marked all of his conversations; it was in the feeling way in which he spoke about God; and the way in which he spoke with all around him.

In the second place, his piety was shown by his referring all his own powers to the Father, and considering all as derived from Him.

He continually assures us that he "came not of himself," and that “the Father sent him;" thus attributing all his benefits to God. He particularly attributes all the parts of his moral system to God.

If he speaks of the religion of mercy which he had come to dispense, he points us to God as its author. “The words which I speak, I speak not of myself; ” and "my doctrine is not mine, but His Who sent me;" and “as the Father hath taught me, I speak these things.”

The same feeling of dependence, the same grateful sense of God's goodness, we ought to exercise. All our blessings, like all his, flow from God. As God invested Jesus with all powers necessary for his undertaking, so He has given to us all the ability which we need to accomplish the work given us to do.

We see the piety of our savior when he seeks the direction and aid of God, when occasions of great importance occurred. The night before his disciples were chosen, he was in prayer. And it was natural, therefore, that before he selected them, he should commend the interests of his religion to God.

Finally, the piety of our savior was greatly shown in his sufferings. You cannot fail to remember the meekness with which he bore so many insults, the patience with which he endured the severest pains, the submission with which he passed through agony and death.

Sufferings come to us all, though they may be small when compared with his. There are disappointments which will destroy our best laid plans, there are pains and sickness to be endured, friends that we lose, and of course, a final hour of agony to be passed through. We should now prepare for these trials by acquiring a spirit of piety; by forming our hearts to the love of God; and by maintaining a humble and affectionate trust in his wisdom and paternal goodness.

It was such an attitude as this which sustained our savior in the hours of his agony, and it is only such a spirit which can sustain us, when diseased, forsaken, or dying. 

And it will not merely sustain us in this world; for it is this attitude of piety, with the practical habits that arise from it, which will make us ready for a world which suffering and death never enter.

(Adapted from a collection of sermons by Rev. John Emery Abbot, 1829)

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Let us Build the Kingdom of God Together!

 


"I must preach the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other cities also. For this reason, I have been sent." (Luke 4:43) Nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is in your midst." (Luke 17:21)

The ministry and mission of Jesus was to preach the beginning of God's Kingdom on the Earth.

We are called by Jesus to use all that we have - our skills, our talents, our abilities, our Reason, our compassion and our treasure - for the advancement of God's spiritual Kingdom, and for the benefit of our fellow human beings.

The greatest lie ever told was that the Kingdom of God was not yet among us. Jesus clearly taught that it was present and "at hand" when he began his ministry (Mark 1:14-15) and he was clear that we were to build it, with God's help and guidance (Matt. 6:10.)

He left no doubt that this spiritual Kingdom was not a political one - designed to throw out the Caesars and place himself on a vengeful throne as Vindicator of his fellow Jews. No, he clearly said to pay Caesar what was his, but also give God what was His (Mark 12:17.)

Nor was God's Kingdom to be a kingdom of wealth, ease and prosperity. No, he taught the inconvenient belief that serving money and wealth is at odds with God's Kingdom, that material goods fade and rot, while Spiritual goods last forever (Matt. 6:19; Luke 12:33; John 6:27.) He did not guarantee easy times for those who followed him, but instead, persecution, division within families, and the leaving of possessions behind, as people became Reborn into God's Kingdom (Matt. 24:9; Luke 12:52; Luke 14:33.)

And belief in God, in the Kingdom, and in the mission and person of Jesus, while the first step on the journey, is hardly the last one required of the Believer. Those who looked back (Luke 9:62) who didn't take on a humble, obedient mindset (Matt. 11:29) or who didn't do the will of God, our Father, were not fit for God's Kingdom (Matt. 7:21.) Only those who endure in the faith will see eternal salvation (Matt. 24:13.)

Tough words, and hard for most in Christendom to hear, given the centuries of false teaching that implies that the Gate to eternal life are wide and is easy to obtain with a simple prayer and a small, shallow, works-free faith, or that we will somehow not face God's judgment for our unrepentant evil deeds (Matt. 16:27.) This has made many think the Kingdom was a future place, or a future event. But Jesus' eternal words (Mark 13:31) do not teach us this (Matt. 7:13-14.)

If we claim to be followers of Jesus, and to serve the God Who sent Jesus to us, then none of us are ever unemployed. 

We are all charged with the Good Work of going out into the world teaching what Jesus taught, serving like Jesus served, loving like Jesus loved, and preaching that God's Kingdom is here NOW, and it is looking for more followers to expand its reach! (John 12:44; Matt. 28:20)

God's spokesman, this man, Jesus, calls us to press into the Kingdom of God without delay (Luke 16:16.) Jesus shows by his fully human life that a human being may fully serve and please God, and that God's will for our lives is neither unreasonable nor impossible (John 13:15; 1 John 5:3.)

So, may God's Kingdom come - as Jesus taught: on EARTH just as it is in Heaven! Let us be God's instruments in this great task, and let's not wait a single more day to begin anew!

Sunday, July 10, 2022

We Are Called to Show God’s Mercy to Others #JesusFollowers

 Our God and Father, the God of our Master, Jesus, is a merciful and loving God, who calls us to show mercy to others, and has mercifully chosen Jesus as an example from whom we might learn and follow abundantly here on earth and into eternal life.

As James, the brother of Jesus, assures us, God’s mercy triumphs over judgment, meaning that we can count on God’s mercy when we repent, but cannot simply rest on our mere self-righteous professions of faith to save us, because, “judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment." (James 2:13.)

When we fail to have mercy, and our faith is inactive, we face the judgment of God, and we shall not inherit eternal life, nor is our life here as abundant as God wants it to be for us.

Jesus, the man God chose, adopted and sent to the world to preach a Good and Beneficial message to us about God’s will for our lives, teaches us that “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7) and we are called to, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36.)

Mercy, according to Jesus, is active service to others.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells of a lawyer who came to him and asked “Who may inherit eternal life?” He tells of the men who walked by an injured man on the road and didn't help him, but the Samaritan, whom he called “good,” showed him mercy. He said of that man, “Go and do the same.”

Just as God is merciful and shows mercy, we are commanded to actively do the same. And because we have the example of the man, Jesus, we know we are capable of doing what God asks us.

For James, as with Jesus, being merciful is more than a mental exercise, or mere mental consent to a set of doctrines or propositions – the acceptance of which somehow leads instantly to eternal life.

James reminds us that mercy and active service as an active part of our faith, a requirement of it, as inseparable as our heads are from our hearts.

“Religion that is pure and stainless according to God the Father is this: to take care of orphans and widows who are suffering, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27.)

Jesus has called us to a higher religion – a religion of works and action.

By way of parable, Jesus teaches us that when we serve others, even the least prosperous among us, we serve him and serve God our Father.

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” (Matt 25:35.)

Clearly, Jesus teaches that God will judge both the righteous and the wicked based on their Works (Matt. 16:27; Ecclesiastes 3:17.)

But to those who showed no mercy and did not perform Good Works, but instead practiced lawlessness, God will say, “I never knew you.” and they shall not inherit eternal life, even if they cry Jesus’ name loudly (Matt. 7:21-23.)

The Psalmist says of God, “The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me. With the merciful you show yourself merciful," (Psalm 18:20.)

We are called to go, and do the same.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

What Did #Jesus Teach About Using Wealth Wisely? [#JesusFollowers]

Jesus never lost an opportunity to teach a moral lesson; so he illustrated the subject of riches with a parable.

A certain rich man's ground brought forth such abundant crops, that he could only get them safely housed by pulling down all his old barns and building larger ones.

When this was done, and he saw his large stores which would provide for every contingency for many years, he resolved to begin to enjoy himself. He had now succeeded in attaining that for which he had labored many years, and for which he had likely denied himself every luxury, and had perhaps also oppressed the laboring poor who worked under him.

He had lived until then as if this world were all there is, and there was no hereafter, as if this world and its goods were for him alone, and as if he had no interest in the distresses of his neighbors, whom his helping hand might perhaps have saved.

Little did he know he was not to live to enjoy those accumulated stores; for God gave forth the fiat, "This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" (Luke 12:20)

This parable had a double reference. It not only strongly illustrated the folly of being covetous of worldly riches, seeing we might never be spared to enjoy them; but it also served as the connecting link between what he had previously said as to men being only able to kill the body, while God was able to punish the soul in hell-fires, and what he immediately discoursed on afterwards, namely, the necessity of providing for the future life more even than for this.

Our Savior's conclusion, therefore, to this parable, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God," (Luke 12:21) naturally led him to discourse on the necessity of seeking first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, when all things we have need of here will be added to us.

Some men's love for riches is such, that they will leave no means untried to gain them, however dishonorable these means may be. These men, therefore, forsake the paths of honesty, and ruin their own souls to secure that perishing dust which they cannot carry with them out of this world.

Riches render such men proud and uncharitable, and shut out every holy feeling. They think their riches can buy everything, but it can neither purchase the favor of God nor the respect of their fellow-men.

How true, then, was the saying of Jesus regarding such men, “ “How difficult it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!" (Luke 18:24) And the reason for this is fully apparent; for "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:34)

If, therefore, your treasure is on earth, and is composed of earthly things, earthly thoughts alone will occupy your mind, and leave no time, no thought, no leisure for God or heavenly things.

Our Father in heaven is a merciful and gracious God; but he is also just, and shall reward every man according to his works. (Psalm 62:12) 

It is therefore every person's duty and interest to live in preparation for eternity, as we do not know how soon our lives shall end. No one is sure of their life even for a day. The thousand accidents that may cut us off, we see exemplified in our friends and brethren around us. Those whom we saw in full vigor in the morning, are often seen cut off before the evening.

God will judge the world.

That is a momentous subject to us all, and is one on which we ought to have clear notions, or else we might commit the most egregious of blunders, and deceive ourselves with the belief that it is all well with us, when we are in reality slaves to evildoing.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. James Stark 1810-1890)

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.