Monday, January 28, 2013

"He has anointed me"

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor…” (Luke 4:18) From just this one sentence from the Book of Luke, Jesus speaks with great clarity about who he is and what his ministry is all about.

Jesus immediately tells us that he is God's Prophet - His spokesman and exemplar. This central role is often overlooked by modern Christians. Just as King David had been anointed with oil, and the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures were anointed to bring a message to the people of Israel, Jesus is anointed – chosen and set apart – by God, Whose spirit comes upon him at his baptism at the hand of John the Baptist.

At that event, God spoke to Jesus saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22) An early variant reading has, “You are my Son, this day I have begotten you,” which was taken from the Psalms, and makes clear his adoption at this moment as God’s Son and most important Spokesman.

The Spirit of God came upon Jesus BECAUSE he was anointed to preach this Good and Beneficial Message – “anointing” in Greek being “Christos,” the word from which we derive his title, “Christ.”

Jesus speaks not only to ancient Judea, telling them to repent and to honor their forefathers' religion by living it more purely, but also speaks BEYOND them to the entire world. His disciples are told to be a light to the entire world, and to salt the earth with goodness. He especially singles out the poor, saying that we should serve them and have compassion on them.

Jesus doesn't just preach this message, he lives his life daily as a perfect example of living for God, our Father, that we (those who claim to follow him) are repeatedly commanded to follow, seeking forgiveness when we fall short of this incredible, perfect example God wishes us to emulate in all things.

This is the Prophet who called Israel – and through them, us all – back to their Prophets through prophetic teaching, and who was misunderstood, questioned by religious leaders of his day, and killed by those who opposed the reformation and purification of their faith that he offered them. 

He called Twelve disciples (these, and no more, into that inner circle) and they called him “Master.” If we call him Master today, we are to do his will and treat his teachings as eternal and as given through him directly from God Himself. 

Scripture Cited:

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, The Spirit of GOD is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the Good and Beneficial Message [Gospel] to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of GOD. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the rabbi, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.  And he began to say unto them, Today is this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:17-21

“After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. You are my Son, this day I have begotten you.” Luke 3:21-22

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matt. 11:29-30

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Salt and Light: The call to use our gifts to serve Others

"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. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, 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 righteousness. But if salt has become tasteless, what then? What if our actions are meaningless, or so infrequent, that having salt is pointless? Worse, what if we ignore Jesus’ call, because we believe that this salt and light are NOT to be used at all?

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.

Coming just after the 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 – and it is key to understanding that Jesus believes we are indeed capable of doing Good Works for Others in his name, and in fact are commanded to do so, if we claim to be his followers and wish to still call him “Master.”

If we’re given the gifts of salt – among them, the gifts of Jesus’ holy example and our God-given ability to choose righteousness over wickedness – and allow it to become stale, either by choosing to throw it on the ground to be trampled or to let this salt rot because we falsely believe we lack the ability to use it to do Good, then we have failed.

If we have the gifts of light – among them being Jesus’ teachings and our God-given ability of reason and knowledge – but decide that using them to serve Others is unnecessary, that Good Works are merely optional things we need never concern ourselves with – 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 definitively shown us that we, as human beings, can indeed also do great things on behalf of Others. Let there, then, be no excuse to hide our gifts!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

What liberal and conservative Christians both get wrong

Borrowed from the world of politics, the terms “liberal” and “conservative” have been applied to religion, sometimes with success, but often not. There are more than two “camps” in the broad and varied spectrum of religions, including Christianity, but the liberal and conservative views (as they are commonly understood) both manage to seem to get the true message of Jesus wrong, or at best, half right.

The “liberal” Christian seems to say “Jesus just taught us to be nice.” While the other side says, in effect, “Jesus just taught us to have faith.” Both speak to the Truth, but manage to take their general belief systems to extremes, and in the process, manage to miss the point of Jesus’ mission, and do so almost entirely.

They look to passages (or parts of them) in which Jesus tends to say we should just be nice to one another. “Jesus,” they say, “just wants us to love our neighbors. Jesus says God is Love, and that’s all we need to do.” They emphasize the radical message of Jesus and say this translates today into working for social justice for groups that are oppressed, and that, they say, is the core of the Gospel. They go on to say we should never judge another person, and believe discerning any behavior as "wrong" is somehow illegitimate.

The “conservative” Christian, in contrast, says, “All we need to do is have faith in Jesus, and we will, upon making a brief prayer to God, instantly (and some say, permanently) be “saved” and will be guaranteed a place in Heaven when we die.” Further, they claim that any good deeds, any “works” done here on earth are looked upon by God as unnecessarily and are purely done out of gratitude for that free and instant gift of salvation.

Both miss some rather important aspects of the Gospel as Jesus himself preached it, and are guilty of selectively reading and interpreting his words.

The “liberal,” while understanding correctly that Jesus came to preach the radical message of loving one’s neighbor JUST AS we love ourselves, often misses the more radical teaching that we are to pray for and love our enemies, too. Further, Jesus’ Great Commandment wasn't ONLY to love our neighbor. That was the second commandment, the first, and more important, was to love our God with all our hearts, minds, strength and heart. That is truly a challenging command – one that requires the effort of our entire being to accomplish. Clearly, “just be nice to one another” is not a complete message of the Gospel.

When “liberal Christians” claim that we should never judge another, they misread Jesus, who was largely speaking about the hypocrisy of judging those clearly sinning against God, while those judging are in fact were doing the same thing. Taking the beam out of one’s eye before judging those with splinters in theirs conveys that concept that those who love and serve God must look after one another.

And the "liberal" side seems to miss that every command of Jesus was made for us to INDIVIDUALLY act. He called no one to form a political party, an interest group, or see all people as a single oppressed minority to champion through group action, except the poor, and even in this case, he stresses how we can and must deal individually to alleviate their suffering. There was no call to march on Rome and demand greater welfare benefits. No, the call of Jesus is simply to "feed the hungry" and "clothe the naked" where they are, and to do so NOW.

The “conservative,” while correctly stating that faith is the beginning of our life with God – as God’s Prophet Jesus revealed to us in his teachings, life and death – miss the point. This is only the START of this journey, not the end.

Jesus calls us to obey his Gospel and live it, not just believe in it. Belief, or just saying “Master, Master!” isn't enough. That is an incomplete faith.

Jesus explicitly taught us what must be done to inherit eternal life: yes, we must believe, but we also must obey the commandments we've known all along. And yes, that includes doing good works on behalf of our neighbors. As the disciple John wrote, if we say we live in Jesus, we must walk just as he walked; and those who say they live in him, but don’t walk as he walked, are deceiving themselves. Faith without works, as James said, is useless, pointless, and dead.

When Jesus says that we will not be forgiven by God if we do not first forgive others (and do so continually) he gives us a view into how God expects us to live, and puts conditions on his freely offered gift of salvation and eternal life with Him. Those who believe, but fail to act, have a confidence in salvation they have no right to demand from God, who gives according to His own judgment. And to judge others as “unsaved” is neither our place nor do we have the ability to know God’s mind on the subject.

Jesus calls us to act each day individually on his Good and Beneficial Message (that is, “Gospel”) to bring it about in THIS life, and to act with God always in mind, putting God and Others, not ourselves, first. Let’s be about God’s business.

Scripture Cited:
“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matt. 22:34-40

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matt. 7:3-5

“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

"Why do you call Me, ‘Master, Master’ and do not do what I say?” Luke 6:46

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The wide gate vs. the narrow gate

The list of misconceptions Christians hold about the nature of the ministry of Jesus (God’s chosen and Anointed One, His Prophet) is varied, and is very long. And Jesus himself said that there is a “wide gate” most people choose to walk through that seems far easier to them, and that’s definitely the gate most people today choose. But that’s not the one he calls us to walk through. We are to pass through the Narrow Gate of obedience.

This “Wide Gate” belief today often manifests itself in the belief that we cannot possibly do all the good Jesus tells us that God, our Father and his Father, wishes us to do. In fact, to even attempt to obey God and God’s Chosen Prophet, Jesus, is seen by some kind of an affront to God.

This rather perverse doctrine, a house built on the shifting sands of man’s misinterpretation, makes Jesus a mocker of God, as if he were “teasing” us little human beings who couldn't POSSIBLY obey God, despite God’s direct commands to the contrary.

This leads directly to the lazy, Wide Gate of “Easy Believism” – a belief that all we need do for God is to nod our head in assent to empty affirmations that we do indeed “believe” in a God, but at the same time, adopt an aversion to the very goodness, righteous actions and pure hearts that God calls us to through the ministry of Jesus.

The fact is, when Jesus says “obey me” and tells us that if we continue in his word (which never passes away) we are “truly” his disciples, he speaks the Truth. To deny this is to deny Jesus.

As a fully human being, Jesus fully obeyed God. Thus, he becomes an exemplar for all of us, and his perfection – and call for us to follow and obey him completely – is a challenge laid down to us. And make no mistake: If Jesus perfectly obeyed, we may ALSO do it. It is not too hard for us.

If we pick up this challenge (by taking up our cross every single day and carrying it) and voluntarily put his easy yoke upon us, we shall be rewarded by God in the next life.

Jesus himself left us no doubt we could do this, and in fact commands it of his disciples. John, in his first letter, writes encouragingly that the one who SAYS he remains in Jesus should walk JUST AS HE WALKED. Jesus agrees.

Jesus came as a Prophet of God and as a perfect example in life and death of what God wishes us to be, and called on us to follow him in all things. That is it. That is the Gospel, or “Good and Beneficial Message.”

It calls for no further mysteries, no complicated Greek philosophies, no man-made, Lawyerly speculations or endless debates about others’ interpretations of Jesus' words or any imagined interpretations about him. It's AMAZINGLY simple. And yet billions are following the Wide Gate towards destruction by ignoring this Good Message by denying its very existence,  which is incredibly sad. / Thus endeth the sermon.

Scripture cited:

"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matt 7:13-14

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34

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

“Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” John 14:23

“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If you continue in my word, then are you are truly my disciples.” John 8:31

“Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” 1 John 2:6