Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Great Commandment: Extraordinary Love and Devotion Required

The Great Commandment is one of the most well known and most misused of all the sayings of Jesus. In Matthew and in Mark, Jesus is approached with a simple question, to which he gives a rather simple answer:

“Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

He references here two verses in the Hebrew Bible, one from Deuteronomy (6:5) and another in Leviticus (19:18.)

For modern Christians and non-Christians alike, these are, strangely, extremely difficult sayings to grasp, and both groups tend to minimize and over-simplify the commands for their own purposes. Humans love to oversimplify things. And while Jesus’ summary of the Law and the Prophets did simplify the message God sends to His people, it doesn't negate the need for religion, as non-Christians assert. Nor does it end the necessity for Good Works nor nullify any of God’s Moral Law, as Christians often assert.

The nature of the Great Commandment is to reiterate the basics of the faith the Jews had inherited from their Fathers. It wasn't about the hundreds of man-made rules and regulations they had created over the centuries. Jesus condemned those and said they separated men from God.

But while some would like to believe Jesus said, “Just acknowledge God’s existence and be nice to one another,” the Great Commandment asks for more than that.

The Great Commandment is a challenge – and a rather radical one. Namely, that God should be the absolute center of our lives. God must be loved with ALL our hearts and ALL our soul and ALL our mind. One hundred percent is required, no less.

That's a clear call for us to believe in a God Who believes in us - and Who believes we can obey His commands. And while some Christians would hope these commandments are a call to abandon Good Works and simply throw adoration at God and 'like' our neighbors, that's not at all what Jesus preached. This message is one of loving one’s neighbor JUST AS we love ourselves, and that is further developed in his command that we pray for even our enemies. That’s the level of devotion God requires, according to His Prophet and our Master, Jesus.

These commands require the effort of our entire being to accomplish. Clearly, “just be nice to one another” is not a complete message of the Gospel and nor is giving a weak acknowledgement to God every seven days.

In short, Jesus didn't say "Love is all you need." That was the Beatles. Like faith without works, which is dead, love that’s not followed by devotion and actions is also dead.

Jesus wasn't sent by God to tell us to meditate on the wonder of God, or to develop our inner selves, or give ecstatic praise to God without any Good Works and service to accompany this praise. No, he taught that we must channel our sense of the transcendent wonder of God in Heaven into immanent Good Works here on Earth, and that just adoration or mere assent to the existence of a God is not enough.

To be One with God, we have the example of God’s Chosen Son, Jesus, who not only adored and loved God, but did so with every ounce of his being. And he calls on us to do exactly the same.

To be One with Jesus, we must be One with our neighbors. And to do this, we are called to serve them and love them just as completely as we love ourselves.

And let no one say that we cannot do this, that we’re too weak, not equipped enough by God to accomplish all that His Prophet Jesus commanded us to do.

Jesus and his (and our) God believe we are fully capable of doing all that is required of us, relying on the example Jesus set, aided by God's continuing Grace and Love.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Christianity: The On-Demand Religion

Modern Christianity can seemingly work magic. It can be made to serve our deepest desires. It can It can even Bring Left and Right together as politics fails to do!

How is that possible, you say?

Christendom has become a sophisticated, multi-billion dollar industry, complete with Mega-Churches that fulfill every need and desire, and a set of easy and easy-to-accept beliefs that make little or no demands on its members.

And for each and every interest group or belief, Christianity is flexible and its doctrines fungible enough to be made to “fit” every belief and whim.

To the Religious Conservative, Christianity is EASY! Just say the right magical formula, believe that the ancient creeds say what must be said to ensure eternal salvation, have an emotional experience in church each week (where we go to hear great bands, too) and that’s it! Nothing else is required by God. And don’t you DARE try to say we should be “good” or follow “commandments,” because rules and work restrict our freedom, right?

To the Religious Liberal, Christianity is EASY! Just be polite to other people and express a vague “Love” to everyone, and that’s all that’s required by God (however we choose to personally define this “God” figurehead.) Except for political action on behalf of our party’s favorite causes and interest groups. That’s required, too. Because that’s what Christ taught. Right?

To the Businessperson, Christianity should have ROI, a Return on Investment. Every dollar put into that collection plate should be shoveled back into programs we can see in the church building – programs for my teen, my preteen, my spouse, myself, support groups for my divorced parents, rehab support for my uncle, and a great music program for us all. We need to get what we pay for, and WE are the audience. Right?

To the Televangelist, Christianity promises ease, comfort, wealth, and success. God and Jesus promised all these things and more, if you only look in the right (cherry-picked) Bible verses, and if you buy the latest self-help CD from the TV ministry for $149.95. That’s how we will force Christ to come back and smite all our enemies. Right?

To the fan of the “Secret,” Christianity’s God can be made to act like a magic Genie. If we wish for something really, really hard, we get it from the Universe, because we deserve rewards – and deserve them here and now! And what’s the Universe (“God”) for, if not to satisfy our every need, wish and deeply felt desire? God’s Universe can be manipulated to acquire new clothes, a new car, perfect health, jewelry, riches, fame, and of course, sex with a fully compatible mate. That’s how the Universe works. Right?

So, what’s wrong with all this? Why NOT believe what these members of modern-day Christendom believe?

  • Jesus said, unambiguously, that we must obey the commandments and do Good Works in order to be saved for eternity. (Mark 10:17-22) 
  • Jesus specifically said mere words and vain professions would NOT be enough to secure eternal salvation. (Matt. 7:21; Mark 6:7; Luke 6:46; John 3:19-21) 
  • Jesus called out and censured the Rich and preached against their greed and excesses, and said those who loved riches more than God should give up their riches and repent. (Matt. 6:19-20, 19:21; Mark 7:22, 10:25; Luke 6:24, 12:15) 
  • Jesus had no place to lay his head, let alone a fancy multi-million dollar sanctuary in which to preach. (Matt. 9:20; Luke 8:58) 
  • Jesus said we must give God 200% of our love and devotion, not just our platitudes and lukewarm friendship. (Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27) 
  • Jesus said we must love our neighbors not with niceties, but with EXACTLY the same love we give to ourselves, and nothing less. (Matt. 22:39; Mark 12:31) 
  • Jesus said people would hate those who followed him, would spit on them and persecute them and even kill them, as they killed him, which is far from promising ease and comfort. (Matt. 5:12-13; Luke 21:17) 
  • Jesus specifically said that he was Chosen, Anointed, and Sent out by God to preach repentance from sin, not to act as a militaristic, enemy-slaying General, either then or any time in the future. (John 18:36)
But these facts of the ministry of Jesus are only problems if one wishes to follow the actual teachings of Jesus – the teachings that he said would never pass away; the teachings which Jesus said would lead to the Kingdom of Heaven on the earth and eternal life after we leave it.

If we care about Jesus, and claim to follow him and use his name, we must start actually listening to his words, and we must renounce Christendom and its arrogance, greed and lies told, and believed, in the name of Jesus, God’s Anointed One.

Who’s ready to become a Jesus Follower?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mid-week Meditation: We have lost the right to sin

Jesus called us to repent of our past sins and stop sinning. Therefore, when we become followers of Jesus, we lose the right to sin, and take on the responsibility of doing Good Works continually. 

Further, we must love and serve God and your neighbors more than we love yourselves. This is the yoke we take on when we say we follow Jesus. And it’s a beautiful, wholesome and righteous yoke, and it leads to eternal life!


"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. 11:28-30

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Just saying something won't make it so

Some brief modern parables:

A man was well known for being a rather nasty person. One day he went to the mall and bought all new clothes – a new jacket, new shirt, new pants and shiny new shoes. But when he went to work the next day, wearing all these new clothes, he greeted every complement with the usual sneer and nasty put-down. But hearing this, one co-worker turned to the other and said, “Wow, he’s a completely different person in those new clothes.” Does that sound plausible?

A woman was very upset that she was larger than average. So one day, she began telling people she met that she weighed 140 pounds, even though, in reality, she weighed well over 250 pounds. But everyone she told believed her, because she said it. Does that sound believable to you?

Of course, buying new clothes doesn't address the underlying attitudes of a person, if they don’t also change. And you can call yourself petite all day long, that doesn't make it true, if you're not.

But when it comes to our religious lives, many Christians say these kinds of outlandish things all the time, they assume they’ll get away with it – AND THEY DO!

A man has an emotional experience in the front of a church, and believes he is completely “saved” for all eternity. He believes that God MUST allow him into Heaven (not to mention, shower him with gifts of wealth, power, health and satisfaction in THIS life) simply because he has “put on new clothes” and has said a few empty words about Christ.

A woman tells everyone she meets that she is “bathed in the blood of Christ,” and that she need never again worry about her eternal salvation, or “doing” things to “earn” it, because that would be wrong, or even downright EVIL! (or so says her pastor.) 

Instead, she tells people her salvation was “finished” 2,000 years ago on the Cross and cannot be taken away by God, even if she continues to sin as much as she did before she was “saved.”

Just like the newly clothed man with the same old attitudes, or the overweight woman who believed she was now skinny, saying these things doesn't make them true. Instead, telling others you are “saved” for all eternity, absolved from doing Good Works forever, is delusional, and arrogant.

But this is repeated tens of millions of times each day by 'christians' who are led astray by their preachers - preachers who have been educated to blindly repeat centuries of misunderstood, false, dangerous doctrines.

Just because your pastor says it, doesn't make it so. In fact, if he says anything, it’s probably false, since the Church itself is fallen and is in need of Restoration. Just because there have been centuries of false, man-made doctrines doesn't mean they should be respected, honored or believed by anyone.

For the Christian, only the true, pure teachings of Jesus, God’s Anointed One (“Christ”) the Prophet whom God chose and sent to us, can Save us and bring us back to God – his Father, and ours.

Jesus said we should repent of our sinful acts (Matt. 3:2); then we are saved and forgiven from those past sins, and are born anew. Then we must believe his words (John. 10:27; 12:47) obey his commands (John 15:14) STOP sinning (John 8:11) forgive others (Matt. 18:21-22) seek forgiveness when we fall short of God's ideals (Matt. 6:12-14) and this results (God alone willing) in eternal salvation (Matt. 10:17-20.)

There is no other man or any other doctrine one needs to believe for our salvation. The teachings of Jesus ALONE are sufficient for our salvation and for happiness and peace in this life.

When a person exchanges this simple faith for the faith of The Preachers – that is, that all one must do is believe that we ritually bathe in the blood of Jesus and are instantly saved the minute we do so – they truly DO put their eternal lives in danger, because they put their faith in men’s clever doctrines, not the teachings of God’s Chosen example and teacher, and the model for our lives.

Jesus humbly calls us to drop our nets and “Come, follow me.” Will you answer that simple call?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

"I can't" is the first step to a failed Faith

Saying "I can't" is often the first step to failure, whether it's in Business, in Personal Relationships, and even in our Faith. Perhaps especially in our Faith life.

Because in the realm of religion, people find it very easy to say "I can't" because they have been trained to believe it - or, worse, they've been trained that it's inevitable. This will manifest itself in many ways, depending on the tradition of Christendom with which they are affiliated.

Some will say, "I can't do Good because God hasn't given me the ABILITY to do Good. Yet.'

Others will say, "I can't - and shouldn't - do Good because I don't need to. I'm already saved by my faith alone."

And most pernicious of all, some say, "I can't be perfect or holy because I'm only human, and I'm unable to do Good because of Adam's sin."

Let's look at these claims one by one. To say, "I can't do Good because God hasn't yet given me the ability to do Good" is effectively putting the ball back in God's court, laying the blame at God’s feet for failing to provide strength for us to act, and copping out of our duties and responsibilities.

While it's true that God will help us on our journey, and embraces us in our darkest moments, to make God do all the Work He has instructed us to do makes Him our slave, not our God.

It's also an amazing slap in the face to God to claim that we are unfit and unable to obey His moral commandments. God, who has freely given us the gifts of senses, strong bodies, great minds, and tender hearts, calls us to use them in His service, and to serve Others in His name. We live on a planet with amazing resources with which to do the Good Works God commands us to do.

We have the knowledge of what "Good" means to God, through the books of Scripture, which reveal His Prophets' teachings and warnings, including the teachings and warnings of His adopted Son, Jesus, whom He sent out to be a PERFECT example for us to follow. Friends, "we have no ability"? We have no such excuse.

Every means of improvement and happiness is the free gift of God, but then the improvement itself depends on ourselves, and from our actions alone will we be judged.

Others, mainly in the Protestant tradition, have learned a twisted version of "salvation" by learning to rehearse the line, "I can't - and shouldn't - do Good because I don't need to. I'm already saved by my faith alone." This is the "Wide Gate" version of Salvation, and is a gross misunderstanding of the words of Jesus - God's Anointed Prophet - who brings us Salvation FROM SIN as a free, initial gift, but then calls on us to earn our eternal salvation through obedience to God's Will through our Deeds, by which we will be judged and rewarded in Heaven.

And, when specifically asked "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus replied that we should obey the commandments (Mark 19:17) and said that mere faith alone would not be sufficient (Matt 7:21).

Next, to claim, as some do, that the Moral Law God wishes us to follow is too hard is false. In the Book of Deuteronomy, we learn that God's burdens are "not too hard", and that we "CAN do it", and have no excuses for disobedience (Deut. 30:11-15.) Jesus teaches that the "Yoke" which is represented in his teachings is "light" and easy to handle. To plead that it's too hard to do Good is to spit in God's face and deny His Prophets and the Scriptures.

Also, to fail to separate the RITUAL Laws - which no Jew even follows now, after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70 - from the MORAL Laws which are always in force, forever - is willful ignorance. The vain traditions of man which Jesus condemned, such as the ritual hand-washings that the Pharisees taught in Jesus' day, are also not binding on us. Those who find the Ten Commandments "too hard" to follow, and therefore will be judged rather harshly, if God's pronouncements are true.

Finally, to saddle Adam with our excuses ("I can't be perfect or holy because I'm only human, and I'm unable to do Good because of Adam's sin.") is not only wrong, it's also unbiblical - even if it is a popular excuse today.

In the Biblical stories of Genesis, Adam's sin, and Eve's, was supposed to have made women have painful births and to have made us labor in the fields rather than living in ease in the Garden of Eden. But any thought of using this story to allow us to blame God for our sinful behavior (because He must enable us to do Good Work for us, "lest we boast") or to excuse us from acting Righteously because we inherited a "stain" of sin and thus could not obey God, is unjustified. And unjust.

God, through Moses, said that His Law was “not too hard” so that we “could do it.” (Deut. 30:14) And God expected us to obey his moral commands, as Jesus repeated consistently. He said that no one else would be charged with our disobedience, and no other would be responsible for our actions except ourselves.

God told Adam's son, Cain (just one generation after Adam!) that he COULD avoid sin, and MUST do so (Gen. 4:7.) If he was able to freely choose to do Good, so must we! Some also see Sin as a disease infecting us from birth. If sin is a disease we are born with, it is not our fault and cannot be blamed. In that case, any Good we do is incidental, and certainly cannot be a basis for judgment, since it's not our fault. But that's just men spinning excuses.

Further, the idea that poor humans are unable to obey God's commands is contrary to every line of Scripture, through which God and those Whom He sent repeatedly tell us to "choose" and "obey" and that we will be judged according to our choices.

In fact, Sins are ACTS that are done, not a disease we inherit, and they can be undone when we go to God in humility, ask His forgiveness and ask that all our previous Sins be covered over and forgiven by Him. From that point, we must commit our lives to obedience to His Son, Jesus, the Anointed Prophet of God and submit to humbly walk with him, relying, as he taught, on God's grace and forgiveness and growing into the Righteous Perfection God knows we are capable of achieving.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Note from the Jesus Followers - the Good and Beneficial Message

God chose and sent us a man, Jesus, His Anointed Prophet, to proclaim to us a Good and Beneficial Message (Gospel) and to be a perfect example in his teachings, life and death so that we would know, once and for all, that Righteousness may indeed be achieved by a human being. By becoming Jesus Followers, we accept the challenge Jesus gives to us to follow him, and to pursue God's righteousness.

We accept the Eternal God of Israel, the Creator of the Universe, as our God.
We accept the man Jesus as God's Prophet to us and our exemplar of Righteousness.
We accept the Hebrew Scriptures and the Words of Jesus as authoritative Scripture, using God's gift of Reason and context as interpreters of these words.
We have hope in Eternal Life with God, according to God's Judgment, not ours.
We call everyone to follow Jesus and pursue Righteousness, depending humbly on God's help and forgiveness and on others who serve God in his name.

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Monday, April 1, 2013

"The merciful parent of the universe...sent the man, Christ Jesus." (Quote from Joseph Priestley)

"The merciful parent of the universe, who never meant anything but the happiness of his creatures, sent his well-beloved son, the man, Christ Jesus, to reclaim men from their wickedness, and to teach them the way of righteousness; assuring them, for their encouragement, of the free and unbought pardon of their sins, and promising a life of endless happiness to all that receive and obey the gospel, by repenting of their sins, and bringing forth fruits meet for repentance. This is the essence of what is called Socinianism; and though this simple doctrine may, on account of its excellence and simplicity, be a stumbling-block to some, and foolishness to others, I believe it to be the sum and substance of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the wisdom and power of God."

Joseph Priestley, "An Appeal to the Serious and Candid Professors of Christianity," 1827.