Sunday, July 28, 2013

On Defeating Sin and Achieving God's Ideal Standard

For us to sin is to fall short of God's perfect Standard, His Ideal, which was perfectly exemplified in the life and death of Jesus, God's Anointed Prophet. To sin is to therefore fall short - an action that either fails to see the goal and therefore to ignore it entirely, or to seek the goal and fall short. Sinfulness, therefore is our "fallen shortedness," and is either our action or lack of action towards seeking the Goals Jesus says God wishes us to achieve.

Sin, therefore, is not a product of our Being, or a part of our Nature, but is an ACT on our part, or lack of Action, in relation to God's Ideal vision for what our lives can be.

Those who lack hope or who misunderstand God's Ideal and the achievement of it in Jesus' life and death and Message begin to despair, and when they despair, they misinterpret "sin" as something so deep within us that we cannot possibly achieve God's Ideals.

To believe this were the case, that sin is somehow a genetic fact that causes us to never reach God's Ideals (or, worse, makes us so that we can never even TRY to achieve them) would make God and His messenger, Jesus, into liars and convict them of gross injustice.

God requires moral perfection, but this is not an unreasonable requirement, nor an unreachable one. But if were UNABLE to do what God asks us to do , yet would still be punished for not accomplishing it, then that would make God both unrighteous and unjust. For to command us to achieve an Ideal, but then reveal that we cannot do it (or that it must be done FOR us by God, giving God the merit and us having nothing to do with the achievement of that goal) is unjust and immoral, if God truly judges us according to our Works – and we are assured that He will.

Happily, through the Good and Beneficial Message (Gospel) of Jesus, we know this isn't the case. 

Jesus achieved the Ideals of God which he told us that we MUST seek to achieve, and that we COULD achieve. And because Jesus was human like us and walked the same earth as we did, breathed the same air, wept, slept, was hungry and was tempted, yet performed Good Works that pleased God and resisted temptation, we can be assured that those Ideals of God that Jesus preached to us ARE achievable by every human being.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Danger of TIVOing Jesus' Words

The Parable of the Wise Builder begins with Matt. 7:24: "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock."

But let us stop right there. We are often so quick to reach the end that we fail to see the beginning. Like using TIVO, we scan through the "unimportant" parts to get to the interesting parts of the story, like dramatic rain beating down on the two houses, and one house sliding into the sand with a great crash.

But let's slow down a bit. Jesus in this parable has already given us some great lessons in this first sentence. He says all who hear his words and DOES them are wise.

This tells us first that we may actually hear his words. This seems obvious, but to many in Christendom, his words are not that important, or are at best something that we can treat casually and overlook. Some claim that his words were meant to set up an impossible ideal - something that "convicts us" of being sinners by birth, rather than sinners by action, and therefore, we cannot do what he asks. But this of course cannot be found coming from the mouth of Jesus, who in direct opposition to this idea says that his words will not pass away (Mark 13:31; Matt. 24:35)

He goes on to say that all who hear him, and DOES what his words command are wise. To "do" his words is an action on our part, and a command. We must completely reject Jesus if he is telling us to do things that we are incapable of doing. We must reject him also if he claims God wishes us to act a certain way, but we are from birth condemned to do the opposite and cannot physically or spiritually do otherwise.

To hear and obey, however, are things only free people can do. Only those endowed by their Creator with the ability to hear can hear. And if God grants that only SOME may have the ability to obey Him, by His capricious grace (as some claim) then this God would be unjust, and guilty of an oversight, because he failed to tell Jesus about this arrangement. But since God is not unjust, so we must conclude we have the free will to hear the message God sent through His Prophet and spokesman, Jesus, and respond to it, and then, with the help of God's spirit and the example of Jesus' life, grow toward that Perfect Ideal.

So we may hear and obey God's message. But the final part of this opening of the parable is that those who do hear and obey are "wise." There are numerous examples of wise and righteous men in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus says he came not to call the Righteous to repentance, but Sinners. Both categories of people exist in our world, as they did in his.

To throw up our hands and claim that we're genetically unable to obey and perform Righteous Works for God in the name of Jesus is to "TIVO" past the difficult work of following Jesus' words, but it's exactly what we're called to do as Jesus Followers.

With this parable, as with many others, Jesus sets before us an ideal of God's Righteousness and tells us "Follow me" (Mark 2:14) and "Obey my teaching" (John 14:23.) God chose and sent Jesus as our perfect ideal, and tells us to follow Jesus - in whom He was "pleased" (Matt. 3:17.) We are to put his words INTO PRACTICE (Matt. 7:26) so that we do not end up in the shifting sand of man-made beliefs that tell us that obedience to God is an impossible ideal.

This is the challenge of the Good and Beneficial Message ("Gospel") - that we take up the challenge and follow Jesus, doing whatever he said we should do. And in doing so, we build our houses on Rock by ACTING ON his words and putting them into practice (Matt. 7:26) so that we do not end up mired in the shifting sand of a man-made, dangerous belief that obedience to God is an impossible ideal, and can easily be ignored.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Prayer, According to Jesus

We all have our own ideas about what it means to pray to God, and how to do it. But as followers of Jesus, we should be looking towards him and his words for guidance, and when we do, we might be surprised what he has to say.

"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Note: the Greek word here for “reward” means “wages.”)

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:5-12)

Jesus clearly spells out a few things we must bear in mind when praying:

1. We should not be praying in public – in church gatherings or street corners –  in order to be seen as pious.
2. We should pray in secret. The words for “room” (elsewhere “closet”) means a secret storeroom where people of his time would go to be in private. Where better to seek the infinite storeroom of God’s spiritual strength!
3. We must not heap up many empty phrases because we think God hears us better when we use a lot of words.
4. God knows what we need before we ask.
5. Jesus gives us a simple prayer by which we can express our gratitude to God and our acknowledgement of Him.

Many Christians want God to be our magic genie, our butler and our doorman, and He cannot be any of these. And even as Jesus consistently preached that we should desire spiritual things and not earthly treasures (Matt. 6:19-20; Luke 12:33) many Christians pray to God for new cars, more money, a promotion and for an end to sickness and pain. That’s witchcraft, not faith in God.

We should be seeking God’s help to overcome adversity, endure suffering, avoid temptation, and grow stronger from all that the world sends our way, and speak to God about all things and all of our troubles and concerns.

But asking for cold hard cash (or a new car, or a raise, or a companion of the opposite sex) from the Creator of the Universe is 180 degrees from what Jesus taught us to do.

He also said God already knows what we need, so we should not raise up endless words to God, as the pagans do. That seems to be good "advice" from our Master, Jesus, doesn't it?

So, bearing in mind that Jesus repeatedly tells us to seek spiritual things, and not material things, and that the poor will be, and are, blessed, and that the rich will find it extremely difficult to inherit eternal life with God, why would we spend time praying for riches?

Why, indeed, would we pray for ourselves, our own material needs, or our own self-gratification, when Jesus says God doesn't favor any of us in particular?

Why would we send up words of petition to God demanding material goods, when we know that is not what God sends?

Why pray for special, material, favors, when we know God shows no partiality and cannot be bribed with our words (Deut. 10:17) and that it rains both on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45)?

Why pray that Nature obey our whims, when we know that God isn’t in the storms or natural disasters (1 King 19:11-12) but in the caring and loving response to them when we are damaged by them?

Why send up many, many vain and repetitious prayers when Jesus tells us God does not listen to them?

To seek ANY material things that will rust and become moth-eaten from our Creator seems to make God very small and petty. Lucky for us, God isn't a Genie, or a magician, or our personal doorman, holding open or slamming shut doors on a whim, known only to Him.

And to make God into a master manipulator or puppet master makes this life meaningless and pointless. God granted us the freedom to do good or to turn our backs on Him and do evil.

When King David prayed to God, he prayed seeking to be renewed and for his soul to be restored (Psalm 23:3) and acknowledged that it was God Who would lead him towards righteousness. This is just as it should be.

Through Jesus, the one God has anointed as His Son and Prophet, we know that God wishes us to seek Him in prayer for spiritual, not material, things. Let us pray with honor and respect to the One Who created us and has the ability to give us all the spiritual help we need from his vast spiritual storehouse.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Jesus: God's Chosen Prophet

The fact that Jesus was God's Prophet - His spokesman and exemplar - is largely overlooked and downplayed by many Christian ministers. And yet, Jesus made is explicitly clear during his ministry that he was just that.

The man Jesus, God's Anointed Prophet, revealed God's will to us through his life, teachings and death. We know God our Creator's character, sense of justice and hopes for our lives through Jesus' revelations and exemplary life.

Jesus had three missions that went far beyond the traditional role of the Hebrew preacher/prophets who came before him.

He sought to warn Jerusalem of its immanent destruction, he announced the establishment of God’s Righteous Kingdom on Earth, and he sought to call people to Eternal Salvation, living as the Perfect Example of how we should gain it.

Like those ancient prophets, Jesus also warned the people of Judea that they had forsaken God, and must immediately turn back to Him. This urgent mission is spoken of repeatedly by Jesus, and is directed at the people of Israel. He clearly said those who were hearing him would see the “end of the age” and he was right. At the end of the AD 60s, the Roman Legions under Titus entered Judea and destroyed Jerusalem, completely fulfilling Jesus’ prophetic statements about the fall of that great city and the end of the Age.

But Jesus spoke not only to the nation of Israel, telling them to repent and to honor their forefathers' religion by living it more purely, but also spoke BEYOND them to the entire world, announcing the arrival of God’s Kingdom on Earth. This spiritual Kingdom would come gradually and peacefully – unlike the brutal conquest and destruction the Jews sought from their vision of a Messiah, and completely unlike the terrifying “Second Coming” expected even today by most of Christendom. This Kingdom, says Jesus, is one built on loving one’s enemies, service to others through Good Works, and love of, and reliance upon, God, and His nourishing, ongoing Grace. Jesus calls us to build this Kingdom here and now.

Jesus also spoke to us all individually, calling us to seek God’s Eternal Salvation. We are to return to God, repenting of our past sins and turning our face back to God in both love and service. After thusly being “Born Again,” Jesus tells us we must thereafter seek the high standard of God’s perfection, and assures us that we may achieve this goal by living his life as a perfect example that we are commanded to follow. We are commanded by our Master to seek God’s forgiveness when we fall short of this incredible, perfect example God wishes us to emulate, and that we must forgive others and love them as they struggle along with us.

This amazing Good and Beneficial Message (“Gospel”) is a challenge to us all to rise up in love and service to others and to God. It is a challenge we know that we can meet because of the teachings and life and death of Jesus, God’s prophet and spokesman. Let us take up the challenge!

Selected Scripture:

“Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” Luke 13:33

And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” Matt. 13:57 (also Mark 6:4 and John 4:44)

And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,” Luke 24:19

And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Matt 21:11