Sunday, December 30, 2012

Riches are not a sign of God's blessing

Many preachers today claim that God wishes us to become wealthy, and that this wealth is a sign from God that we are “favored” by Him. Those who say this are not at all following the words God’s chosen, anointed Prophet, Jesus.

Because if we listen to Jesus, he speaks clearly to us about wealth. We all know the story featuring a camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle. It’s a graphic illustration of how difficult it is for a rich man to be in Heaven with God, though it’s not impossible, he says, since all things are possible with God. But when he says we should not lay up for ourselves treasures on Earth, but instead, gather Heavenly treasure, and repeatedly calls the poor “blessed,” his feelings about wealth is clear: it’s not the money we acquire, it’s the goodness in our hearts and the purity of our actions that “lay up treasure” in Heaven.

In fact, Jesus also told the Rich Man who asked what he must do to be saved (after telling him to obey the commandments) to sell his possessions. What would a well-off American family think when told they must do this to be saved? Can you imagine how insulted they would be!

Many ‘christians’ have been told by their pastors that if they think positive thoughts, have a lot of faith, and “name and claim” the material goods they desire, God will instantly give these things to them. But we are not told by Jesus to “name and claim” riches in the name of God. This is magic, not the God-centered faith Jesus preached. Instead, Jesus said we cannot serve two masters, namely, God and Money, and that we should not put our trust in riches.

Calling upon God for money, and measuring God’s “favor” and blessings by the money we acquire from God makes God into a Heavenly ATM machine, where we get whatever we wish and our desires are gratified, instantly. When Jesus says we are to “take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses,” his message negates this gross parody of God’s Kingdom.

Jesus often makes it clear that being rich and privileged isn’t something to be rewarded. He tells us not to invite the rich to dinner, but the poor, and to not guide the wealthy to the best seat in the house, but invite to poor instead.

The truth is, Jesus constantly elevates the poor, saying that the poor, not the rich, are those who are “blessed” and “favored,” and he commands us to serve and love the poor. That is how we, and they, are truly and richly blessed.

Scripture cited:

“Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” Mark 10:21

“And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:23-27

“And He said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.’” Luke 12:15

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

“You cannot serve God and Mammon.” Matthew 6:24

“Then He also said to him who invited Him, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, Invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.” Luke 14:12-13

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Adoring the Baby Jesus, ignoring the Adult Jesus

For many Christians, once Jesus is born, with all the stories and songs of Christmas done for another year, they feel they can safely ignore him until, at Easter, they can celebrate his brutal death and resurrection. But this ignores completely what happens in between these important events, and reflects, perhaps, a deliberate diminishing of the mission of Jesus as God’s chosen Prophet and Savior.

Why is this so? Why is the adult Jesus ignored while the Baby Jesus and the Dying and Rising Jesus is so adored? It’s because the Baby Jesus, all cute and cuddly, portrayed in a lowly manger, is completely nonthreatening and unassuming. This Jesus asks nothing except our ‘Ooo’s’ and “Ahh's” – our sweet Christmas pageants with the angels and the animals and the Three Wise Men bringing presents.

But what comes AFTER the arrival of the Baby Jesus is the Adult Jesus. And that’s a Jesus many have trouble accepting, let alone following. In fact, many, many Christian preachers believe we can safely ignore the One who says we are required to love our neighbors EXACTLY as we love ourselves, that we must love God with everything in our hearts, minds and souls, and that we must serve others selflessly, including forgiving others and living a life of non-resistance, all the while being Lights to the world by consistently doing good works.

That’s DIFFICULT! It’s far easier to go back and sing Christmas carols about little drummer boys and Silent Nights, isn’t it? It’s easier to retreat to our religious comfort zones rather than live the difficult (but in fact, easy yoke) Jesus wishes us to take up and bear with him, God’s perfect example.

It’s far easier to make excuses and claim that the Adult Jesus who taught these things is really not relevant to us today, despite his own claims that his teachings would never pass away.

Just as there are many Christians who live their Christian lives on the outskirts of the Bible – pretending that it only consists of the Garden of Eden of the Book of Genesis and the terrifying End Days visions in the Book of Revelations – there are many who retreat to the comforting place of Jesus’ birth and the simple salvation formula of adoring the Cross and speaking a “Password Prayer” that (they believe) allows them to get into Heaven without those pesky “tough” words of the Adult Jesus.

But that won’t do. The grown-up Jesus – God’s chosen Prophet and Son, God’s spokesman on Earth who showed us the way in which God wishes us to live, and the one who set for us high standards that he knew we could achieve – that is the one we must remember arrived on that long ago Christmas Day.

Each of us, individually, are called to pursue daily the Kingdom of God that Jesus commissioned us to pursue. That, truly, is the “Reason for the Season.”

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Celebrating overlooked Christmas gifts from God

For many Christians, the focus on gift-giving and merriment during this season seems to them to be taking away from the holiness and specialness of its purpose – to celebrate the birth of the Master Jesus. And there are valid reasons to be concerned. Focusing on materialism, on receiving material goods and the selfishness that can arise from that, are certainly by-products of the season that are unwelcome and surely do not contribute to our spiritual growth. One cannot, after all, serve both God and money as gods.

But the idea that we receive gifts, and give them, is actually at the core of the Good and Beneficial Message Jesus himself taught.

The arrival of Jesus was interpreted as a wonderful and supernatural intervention into the world by Ancient Gospel writers, and surely what followed the birth of this amazing Prophet and Spokesman of God was worth celebrating.

It’s an incredibly sad statement to make, but the gifts of Jesus’ teachings are often overlooked in all the praise heaped upon his birth, especially by those preachers who presume to speak in his name.

For many, it’s as if Jesus was born and then immediately died, and these are the only gifts worthy of celebration. But this neglects Jesus’ own words – words that he said would never pass away, that had great significance, that should be heard and understood. These gifts are as important, perhaps more important in some ways, than his birth, just as a child’s birth, while wonderful, is only the start of a life’s journey. What the child accomplishes is surely just as worthy of celebration.

Jesus, like the Prophets before him, pointed always to his Father, his God and our God, and to the gifts of wisdom, knowledge and understanding offered by the Father and Creator of the Universe. Surely, these are also gifts worthy of praise and celebration this Christmas season.

King Solomon asked God for wisdom and understanding to become a good king, and God gave “a wise and discerning mind” to him in return. We, too, can have these gifts by asking God for them. The brother of Jesus, James, assures us that if we lack wisdom, God gives it generously.

Knowledge and learning (often proposed as enemies of faith) are in fact valuable gifts from God, and we should call upon God to strengthen and encourage them. They are things that Scripture teaches is something to be sought, not avoided. The Pslamist asks God to teach him “good judgment and knowledge.” The Proverbs teach us that it’s an intelligent heart that seeks knowledge, and that it is “pleasant to the soul.”

Jesus condemned the Pharisees for taking away the “key to knowledge,” and failing to guide others to it. This, sadly, is a fault many modern preachers are also guilty of doing, by not allowing the Scriptures and the Prophets, and Jesus, speak to us of knowledge and other valuable gifts we possess, thanks to God, our Creator, who created us to seek after them and not deny them as gifts worthy of possessing.

Scriptural References:

“At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. … Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.” 1 Kings 3:5-12  

“He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding” Daniel 2:21  

“Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.” Psalm 119:66 

“Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly.” Proverbs 16:22 

“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.” Proverbs 1:5 

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me.” Hosea 4:6

“For wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you” Proverbs 2:10-11

“An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Proverbs 18:15

“For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.” Ecclesiastes 7:12 

“Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge.” Luke 11:52

What the religion of Jesus requires of us

What does the religion of Jesus requires us to do? For many Christians today, that is a bizarre and foreign question, because many have been taught that we are under no real obligation other than to have faith – a faith that this or that word or concept is “true” or this or that “really happened” or that this collection of books contains (or is) “God’s Word(s).” That is it. And for many, that seems enough. After all, life is too hard as it is. We’re too busy to care about anything other than a mere assent to these long-established doctrines for one hour every week. And, they might add, Jesus taught us that religion consists only of “Loving our neighbor,” right? So we’re all set if we just emote some love for those with whom we attend church at 11:00 on Sunday morning. There. We’re done. And besides, anyone who says we need to do “work” is wrong and has to be rebuked, because to try to “earn” our salvation with good works is just… wrong. Right?

The problem with all of this is that the Jesus being praised so emotionally on Sunday morning says something quite different. Not just to love our neighbor half-heartedly, but to love our neighbor (broadly defined as Everyone) and to do so JUST AS WE LOVE OURSELVES. No less than that. And even BEFORE this, we are to love God with ALL of our heart, soul, mind and strength. All day, every day. That’s WORK, friends. Good, pure and healthy work that brings us closer to our God and to our neighbors.

But not only this, Jesus taught that God wishes us to love and pray for our ENEMIES and that we are to forgive others when they offend us – and if we don’t, we will NOT be forgiven by God when we mess up. And the only time Jesus was specifically asked, “what do I need to do to be saved?” the answer was that we must “endure to the end,” not that we must merely assent to believe something ABOUT an aspect of Jesus’ birth, death or resurrection (in fact, crying out “Master, Master/Lord, Lord” he says, is NOT enough) Jesus said we MUST obey God’s moral commandments, serve others – especially the poor – and imitate Jesus’ perfect life. Further, we will certainly be judged according to our Deeds, not our intentions or hollow professions.

To refuse to attempt any of this because we might fail (and guess what, we will indeed fall short!) or to view Jesus’ words as “optional” or simply obeying out of “gratitude,” if we feel like obeying them, is a gross misreading of Jesus’ words – which, by the way, cannot be discounted and will NEVER pass away. We are called to strive to be Servants of God and Jesus Followers – to be perfect (just as God is perfect!) and also to humbly and continually seek after God’s forgiveness, strength and guidance. That’s the Good Message of the ministry of Jesus. Let’s do that and see how it turns out!

Scriptural Notes:
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30

“The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Mark 12:31

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” Matt. 5:44

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Mark 6:14-15

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ Mark 10:17-21

“If you would enter life, keep the commandments."  He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matt. 19:17b-19

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matt 7:21-23

Mar_13:13  And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Mark 13:13 (also Matt. 10:22; Matt. 24:13)

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Matt. 25:35-40

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Matt 24:35

Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.” John 21:17

“For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” John 13:15

 “And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds” Luke 23:41

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matt. 16:24-25

“Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matt. 5:48

“So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James 2:17

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

All people are capable of great good and great evil

Human beings have been both incredibly evil and incredibly good throughout history. People showed remarkable, selfless heroism in that theater in Colorado that far surpassed one man's inner darkness. The same is true for every tragedy, from 9/11/2001, back through history, from those who sheltered Jews and other people in the Nazi Holocaust to those who helped black slaves escape from the Ante-Bellum South, etc. etc. For every act of evil, there have been many, many acts of goodness. 

Of course, there’s always great evil among men and women, but we ALWAYS have a choice to act well or badly. Even Cain, the son of Adam, the Biblical First Man, was said to have been given a choice by God, and he was told he could act EITHER way: "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 to have you, but YOU MUST RULE OVER IT." (Gen. 4:7 my emphasis.)

Through this story, we learn that we always have a choice, and that we CAN and (if we believe in the God of the Bible) we MUST choose to do good. 

Jesus taught that we were made to obey God, and gave every indication that we could do so. In fact, our obedience, and our seeking of forgiveness from God when we fail to live up to His high standards, is a requirement of our eternal salvation.

For as John wrote, "By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk the same way in which he walked." (1 John 2:5-6.) That, along with Jesus's own admonitions and urgings to be perfect, to forgive as God forgives, and to seek God's kingdom here on earth, ought to solidify our belief that we enjoy God's precious gift of freedom of choice, and that we must use it to seek goodness in all our acts.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

70x7: Our duty to forgive others

If we expect to be forgiven by God, we must first freely offer forgiveness to others, and to do so continually. Or so says Jesus, anyway. Forgiveness is given by God freely when we ask for it, but we must in turn give forgiveness freely to others, not out of mere “gratitude” or as an optional, grudging act (and when we feel like it) but willingly, and with a contrite heart. This is a condition of our forgiveness by God. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, says Jesus, and this surely applies to forgiveness, which he speak about frequently. When the Scribes told Jesus that only God can forgive sins, Jesus corrected them, and by example, taught that all men should forgive others’ sins and trespasses. 

When Peter asks how many times we must forgive others, Jesus says “Seventy times seven” times. In other words, continually and without end. This comes as a great shock to those who believe they need “do” nothing to achieve communion with God eternally, but they have been greatly misled. Forgiveness, more than almost any other doctrine, is a the core of the faith Jesus preached. And if Jesus can, in his dying breath, forgive those who murdered him, we can forgive those who offend us with their gossip and other petty offenses. Our God, revealed to us by Jesus, is a God of high expectations, and believes that we are able to meet and exceed them. I believe Jesus.

Scripture cited:
“And forgive us our debts, AS  we forgive our debtors. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matt. 6:12, 14-15

"And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses." Mark 11:24-25

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Matt. 18:21-22

“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” Luke 12:48

“Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him.” Luke 17:3-4

Monday, December 10, 2012

Welcome to The Jesus Followers Blog!

Welcome to the Jesus Followers Website!

We are launching a movement dedicated to Jesus, the Anointed (that is, "Christ") - God's spokesman and Prophet.

The Jesus Followers plan to launch a revolutionary Church dedicated to the revolutionary, relevant, timeless teachings of Jesus.

Our Beliefs:

  1. God, our Creator and Father, is One God, an absolute Unity a Spirit, and indivisible; God calls us to serve and love Him, granting us wisdom and spiritual strength
  2. Jesus of Nazareth, a fully human man, was Anointed and Adopted by God at his Baptism as a Prophet, and called disciples to follow him and obey the Father
  3. Teachings of Jesus alone are the authoritative path for Jesus Followers by which we may attain Salvation from sin, an abundant Earthly life, and Eternal Life with the Father
  4. Human beings are fully capable of obeying God, according to the challenge issued by Jesus’ Teachings, guided by Jesus' example, our God-given Reason, and God’s ongoing Grace and Forgiveness
  5. Eternal Life with God is rewarded by God’s judgment alone, is according to our Works and by our Faith in God, and its accomplishment cannot be known to us
  6. Scripture – the Gospels, the Letters of James and John, and Hebrew Scriptures – bear witness to God’s Truth; All Scripture is interpreted through scholarship, historical and literary context, and Reason
  7. God’s Will for us includes Prayer, Seeking and Giving Forgiveness, Worshiping God and Serving Others according to His moral commandments; both individually and united together as a Church 
Seven "Distinctives" Of the Jesus Followers:
1. ONE GOD, OUR FATHER: God is One. There is one and only one God, the Almighty Father, and no other.

2. JESUS, A MAN: Jesus was chosen by God as His fully human servant and Prophet and his life is an example for our own lives.

3. SCRIPTURE IS WISDOM: Jesus' words alone are the center of his Gospel message; the Wisdom literature of the Jewish people are inspired by God and should inspire us to Godliness.

4. THE TRUE GOSPEL: Jesus taught that we are to love God and serve one another, loving even our enemies, and these acts are to be a light to the world. This is the Gospel Message.

5. HUMAN ABILITY: Because this fully human Jesus achieved moral perfection, we also may achieve the challenging goal of Righteousness that God, through Jesus, calls us to achieve.

6. GOOD WORKS REQUIRED: Actually DOING Righteousness through Good Works, in humility, is the core of the Gospel Message, according to Jesus.

7. SALVATION IS GOD'S: We are first saved from Sin when we obtain knowledge from Jesus and repent. Our ultimate destiny resides in God's hands alone, and is not for us to determine or demand.

Our Statement of Faith and Mission Statement:

     God speaks through Jesus and the wisdom of the Hebrew Scriptures,

And we yearn to live with God forever.

Mission Statement:
Following Jesus, we love God and Serve Others, Working Righteousness.

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