Sunday, June 30, 2013

#Jesus Is Not "Superman." Better: He's Our Example! #JesusFollowers

Is Jesus like Superman? And if so, HOW? The answer to that question is actually very important.

Warner Brothers, the makers of the new film, "Man of Steel," are actively promoting the Superman movie to Christian ministers and churches, highlighting the similarities between the "superhero" Superman and the "superhero" Jesus to sell tickets, much like Mel Gibson did in "The Passion of the Christ," a film that had even more references to the real Jesus than Superman did.

In "Man of Steel," Superman reveals that he is 33 years old, traditionally the age Jesus was at the time of his crucifixion. He is shown talking to a priest in a church, with the image of Christ over his shoulder. He is, in a real sense, a "savior of the world," as Jesus has also been portrayed. His father is likened to God (the Father of Jesus) and the adoptive father of Superman alludes to Joseph, say the filmmakers. Superman also appears several times in the film in a "crucifix" stance.

And then there's this: a speech by his long-dead father Jor-El, who tells Superman, "You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders." And he goes on to say, "Every person can be a force of good," and "You can save all of them." (video excerpt, click here)

These words, however, are words far closer to Jesus than these other analogies. But Christendom is closer to the filmmakers in their assessment of Jesus, which is both mistaken and unfortunate.

Interestingly, the author of a RealClearReligion article nailed the "similarities" between Superman and Christendom's Jesus, saying, "In the same way that Christianity trades on the physical vulnerability of Jesus to demonstrate humanity and empathy, the Superman stories where the hero actually gets hurt make it easier to identify with the guy in the tights. It makes us care."

Like Superman in the movies, the Christian mythos (as the author correctly calls it) portrays Jesus as a vulnerable man... but not REALLY a man, since he's (wink, wink) really an alien God who can't REALLY lose. His humanity is all for show - not true in any real sense. Which, of course, is not the case with Jesus.

Jesus is clear about his FULL humanity, and repeatedly subordinates himself to God, saying he can do nothing without God, that God knows things he does not, that he is only relaying the message of God to others, and that he is merely God's servant. He says his God is our God as well, and his Father is also ours.

Jesus tells us we must follow him in obedience to God, that we must obey God and not men, that we must strive towards God's perfection, that we must not sin, and that we will be judged by God according to our actions.

In other words - we must become like Jesus, the Christ, God's Chosen One, and that this Jesus is "an ideal to strive towards." Even though we will "stumble and fall," we can join him in the "sun" of righteousness. That truly is reminiscent of the actual words of our Master, Jesus.

But today's Christianity ("Christendom") does not preach that. It has both a far darker view of humanity and a "Porcelain Doll" attitude towards Jesus, in which we may look towards and worship him, but should never attempt to get too close to him or think much about his actual words.

This error of Post-Nicene Christendom is that their Jesus isn't REALLY someone we can fully emulate. Instead, he, like Superman, is an alien being - someone for whom we must simply wait to come, one day, to solve all of our problems as if by superhuman strength (or magic.) This view prevails, despite his repeated teachings that we must not do any such thing and that we must not view him in this way. This view of Christ is the real "Kryptonite" of Christendom, that it makes Jesus into Superman, a remote alien who is not really one of us. And ultimately, that's a view of Jesus that lacks any hope for the human race.

We should, therefore, "De-Superman" Jesus instead of the other way around. Jesus must be our ideal Human Being, and must be seen as he wished us to see him - as a Godly ideal that can be reached by ALL human beings.

Waiting for Jesus to come back and slaughter our enemies (something he did NOT promise to do) and "throwing our cares" on him rather than doing the hard, but satisfying and Godly work of forgiveness and repentance ourselves, is a backward and desperate way to think about Jesus. And it misses the point of his entire mission.

Jesus is our savior because he calls us to do GOOD WORKS, something Christians recoil from as if it was a venomous cobra rather than the command of a Master. And he summons us to greatness - our "time in the sun" - so that we will help bring God's spiritual Kingdom into existence here and now, on earth, and he dares to tell us that we, too, have the ability to do all the things that he did. 

THIS is the Jesus who came to show us we could indeed achieve the Perfection God required of us, and it’s THIS “Superman” who is worthy of following.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Meditation on Doing Good Works

If a storm is not raging within your heart and soul to do Good Works in the name of God, then you have not heard the challenge of the Good News that Jesus preached, or you have heard it incorrectly.

If your soul is not moved to serve others when you read the words that Jesus preached, then your religious teachers have failed you, because they have failed to inspire you to do righteous Acts in the name of God, as Jesus commanded us to do. If you claim to follow his words, which will never die and never pass away, you will obey him and serve others and love God.

And we will not obey as an afterthought – as mere scraps of “gratitude” from the table – but as complete servants giving up our entire feast to others and to God. The table and all that is on it belongs to God, not to us, and sharing is not optional, it’s a condition of our very salvation.

Jesus clearly tells us that we must do Good Works, that we must be Righteous in our actions, and that we must be Perfect as our Heavenly Father is Perfect. Jesus tells us we can accomplish this, that we have it within ourselves to begin the work, and that, with his perfect example always in uppermost in our minds, and with the ongoing and always nourishing Spirit of God inspiring us towards this goal and strengthening us, we may achieve what God requires of us.

God’s commands are not unreasonable, nor are they impossible, because if we cannot do what God asks us to do, and will be punished for not accomplishing it, then God would be both unrighteous and unjust, and Jesus, who was God’s spokesman, would be a liar. And we know that he is not.

Let us rededicate ourselves to loving and serving our neighbors, loving our enemies, praying for everyone, relying on God for renewal and strength, loving God in gratitude for all He has given us, and taking up the challenge of the Good News which Jesus revealed to us. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Jesus, Adopted by God as His Only Son [#JesusFollowers]

"This day, I have begotten you"
On this Father’s Day, we celebrate our fathers and those who have been fathers to us, influencing our lives and making us the people we are today.

As followers of Jesus, we look to him as a father figure, but also as a brother – a fellow member of the Human Race who also looked to his father and those who were father figures in his life.

Jesus was adopted. But Joseph, the husband of Mary, wasn't the one who adopted him, as we have all been taught. The adoptive father of Jesus was none other than God, the Creator of the Universe.

Jesus was chosen by God (Matt. 12:18; Luke 9:35; 23:35) anointed by God (Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38) and sent by God (Mark 9:37; Matt. 9:38; Luke 9:48; John 5:37). At his baptism, God’s voice says, "This day, I have begotten you," thus becoming his father by adoption. In early manuscripts of the Gospels, Joseph is clearly spoken of as the father and Mary as the mother of Jesus. In Luke 2:48, Mary says to Jesus, "Your father and I have been looking for you."

In Matthew (13:55) he is easily recognized by others as fully human and part of a human family, saying, “Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?

Joseph was by all accounts a good father to Jesus, taking him to Jerusalem every year, performing everything according to the Law, and it is said that Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:39-41; 52)

The early church spoke of Jesus as a man, chosen by God. In Peter’s sermons in Acts, he speaks of him as, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God (Acts 2:22) and “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good.” (Acts 13:38.) Jesus is spoken of as a man’s offspring, the direct descendant of David (Acts. 13:23) and according to the Genealogy provided in the Gospels, this must be through his father, Joseph.

Thus, the early church that gathered in Jerusalem after the death of Jesus and his return to God in the resurrection, saw Jesus as a man, chosen by God, sent by God and adopted by God at his baptism to proclaim a Good and Beneficial Message to mankind, the Gospel, calling on all to repent. It could be no other way, since the Jewish Jesus Followers of that age (before the destruction of Jerusalem) continued to attend the Temple there every day.

If we believe this, what does it mean to us? What difference does it REALLY make if Jesus was adopted by God or was instead created by the seed of God Himself – an otherworldly being who was only adopted and raised by Joseph?

Jesus’ full humanity is vital to our ability to obey Jesus. Jesus tells us we must obey God and following the example of Jesus as a perfect role model of that behavior.

The Adoption of Jesus by God preserved the humanity of Jesus, allowing us to rely on his example and see through him a “Clear Glass” what God wishes for us all.

If Jesus is divine, fully or even partially, the example of Jesus that he set for us can be portrayed as meaningless as goals, because, it can be said, we cannot hope to accomplish them. They make his message and commands meaningless, too, and turns him into a mocker or a false prophet, urging us to do what cannot possibly be done – to be exactly like a half-man/half-God, a demigod, who was endowed in a way that we are not.

The church of Christendom today (specifically Protestant Christendom) believes exactly this: that we cannot be like Jesus, the Demigod, so we should not even try to do the Good Works that he commanded. We can, they say, only believe “on” him in order to gain his goodness and righteousness magically, by our mere words and beliefs, and that full obedience of Jesus’ commands is literally impossible.

But this makes not only Joseph, but Jesus, into an irrelevancy. It makes obedience seem impossible. It makes the words of Jesus into a mockery, and we know that Jesus himself said that his words would “not pass away” even as he said the Jewish world around his followers would.

Today, we must look to Jesus as the son of a human father – a man adopted by God to be the specially anointed Prophet who brings us a message that liberates us and elevates us, telling us that we MAY and MUST obey God and become righteous in our deeds, not just in our intentions and mere words, always relying humbly on God for strength to become more like His adopted Son, Jesus. That is the message of the Gospel, pure and simple. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

White as Snow - Only Through Obedience to God

Many Christians are under the false impression that, simply because they have made a single profession of faith, they are instantly and immediately and forever "cleansed" from all sin, and that this makes them "white as snow," alluding to the first chapter of the Book of Isaiah. By this, many mean to imply that they are not only cleansed from past sin – which is TRUE if we are Born Again and pledge our lives to serve and obey God in sincere repentance. But some mean this to apply to all FUTURE sin as well. And this is false.

Inherent in this is the belief in a verbal profession – the magical words that, by merely speaking them, not only "saves" them (i.e. they gain instant entry into Heaven when they die) but absolves them from doing "Works" which some falsely see as "filthy rags” and somehow trying to “add” to one’s salvation. Which is, for them, a foregone conclusion.

They are mistaken on several counts, and are guilty of twisting the meaning of Scripture to make it mean what they wish it meant.

The verses recited by Isaiah speak of God's disgust at the people of Israel because they did NOT, in fact, do Good Works and were not acting in a righteous manner.

Verse 18, which is often quoted out of context and in isolation, reads: "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."

But this is not a promise by God to MAKE a person instantly pure and righteous by saying mere words (something Jesus himself says. In fact, earlier in the chapter, God tells Israel that its words and prayers, offered by those who will not do righteous deeds, were pointless: 

Verses 1:15-16 read: "When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause."

(Does this not sound exactly like the preaching of Jesus, who urged us to do good and cease doing evil?)

The promise to make one white as snow is a good promise, but it's a CONDITIONAL one by God, based upon us doing WORKS. Remember, the verse JUST before it (16-17) reads as a call to make oneself pure by DOING good:
"Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good”

Verses 19 and 20 after it read: "IF you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but IF you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

Therefore, while we are made “white as snow” when we first repent of our sins before God, and, after seeking His forgiveness, we receive it, we may definitely get muddy once again through our subsequent actions.

Surely, we must always rely on God to open our eyes and ears to the Truth, and as our Creator, always look to Him to cleanse us of sin. But this can never absolve us of the requirement to perform continual acts of Righteousness here in this life in His name and in the name of His Prophet, Jesus, our Master.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Mission of Jesus: To Bring Division

"I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." (Luke 12:49-53)

"Can’t we all just get along?" That was the famous refrain of Rodney King, whose beating by Los Angeles Police officers sparked rioting in 1992.

It’s also the refrain of many who would prefer not to have any controversy or difficulty in their lives, and who hate controversy and conflict, and wish to avoid it at all costs – even at the cost of believing something wrong.

After all, who wants to rock the boat when the water’s not choppy to begin with? Those who question – especially in Christendom’s churches – are seen as troublemakers and malcontents. "Why do they have to raise questions?" they're asked. "Why don't you keep your head down and stay out of trouble?"

It’s the same question Jesus was probably asked. But Jesus came to question, to cause division, and spark controversy. It was only in that way that he would “spark a fire”  that would usher in God’s Kingdom.

Jesus could have become a very popular Pharisee, had he not challenged them and their practices at every opportunity. But instead, Jesus boldly and repeatedly questioned why they were hypocritical in their approach to scripture and religious practices.

He asked why they invented rituals like washing hands and saying prayers that no scripture taught. He vigorously challenged those who were profiting in God’s temple. He questioned those who strung together long, self-centered prayers in public in order to be seen as pious. And he would not tolerate those who wanted to simply sit on the sidelines and not take sides while people compromised their ethics and values, rather than putting them to WORK.

And today, if we follow Jesus and his model, we must look at our religious authorities and again  raise questions, spark controversy, and create division – even if the questions are uncomfortable.

In many Christian churches, the water is indeed smooth as glass when it comes to doctrine, but like in Jesus’ time, the waters need churning, because even most “Protestant” churches unquestioningly accept the Roman Catholic Doctrines supposedly “settled” back in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries, or earlier.

But a doctrine that has been believed for a long time by many people isn't "truth," it's just a long-held, popular belief.

Is Peace-at-any Cost worth it, if we violate our principles? Are we truly following Jesus if we accept man-made doctrines and practices without questioning them, as Jesus did?

Jesus overturned the tables in the temple from which people were profiting from God rather than serving God in humility. Should we remain silent when a “Religion Industry” rakes in hundreds of billions in cash, often preying on the elderly and vulnerable or promising riches and health in exchange for cash?

Jesus taught us to avoid long prayers, or praying for "stuff" like Pagans did, because God knew what we already needed – spiritual treasure that lasted for eternity, not material treasure that rotted and rusted. Should we not challenge with all of our might a false "Gospel of Prosperity" that implies that God will make us rich if we say the right magic words and that we can manipulate Him into giving us material wealth?

Jesus taught us to avoid practices and rituals that had no basis in the Hebrew Scriptures. Should we turn a blind eye to those doctrines taught just because traditionally, they were believed, even if Jesus would not recognize them, or find them actually blasphemous?

Jesus taught us to serve the poor, comfort the widow and others who are afflicted, and to feed and clothe the hungry and naked. Should we pretend that was for another age, and that “works” aren't REALLY required of us, because we have supposedly demanded and obtained the "prize" of eternity from God?

These questions today will create discussion, division and yes, controversy. Isn't that what Jesus requires us to do if we come and follow him? Or are we to put our heads down and remain silent, as Jesus himself refused to do?

Sometimes, long-held doctrines and practices of men must be challenged, and just because they've been unquestioned for a long time and have a lot of clever defense (dreamed up over hundreds of years, repeated by many clever men) doesn't mean that they are correct. Just because Goliath has intimidated others for a long time, so that no one would question him, doesn't mean he must never be confronted by a David.

We must not transgress the commandments of God in order to follow the traditions of men. We are called to challenge doctrines and dogmas despite their seeming age and solidity, and seriously question them, because Jesus is our Master, and his model is the one we must follow.