Sunday, November 24, 2013

Serving Others in Righteousness

To take on the name of Jesus and follow him means far more than spouting a mere handful of words and comfortably considering oneself "saved" for all eternity. Jesus calls us to take up his yoke, to serve others, to pursue Righteousness through righteous acts, and to store up treasure in Heaven rather than on earth.

In short, to follow Jesus is to take up a challenge - to take up a call to serve.

Jesus says, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34.) He calls on us to follow his example, and to "do just as I have done to you (John 13:15) saying clearly that he "came not to be served but to serve.” (Mark 10:45.)

We are to love God with 100% of our heart, mind, soul and strength  and ALSO to love our neighbor just as we are accustomed to loving ourselves (Mark 12:30-31.)

And just who is our neighbor? Jesus was asked this and gave a clear answer in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a man was robbed and left for dead on the side of the road, and many walked right by him. But one man stopped and brought him to a local inn and paid for his shelter and his needs. That man, he said, was the one who was a good "neighbor" to this stranger. And we are told by Jesus, "You go, and do the same" (Luke 10:37.)

This is a call to do good - a call to serve Others, just as Jesus served others. We are able to serve just as Jesus served, we are commanded to do so, and Jesus confirms this with his words (John 14:23-24) which will never pass away (Matt. 24:35.) And as John wrote, "the one who does what is right is righteous, just as [Jesus] is righteous" (1 John 3:7.)

We are to be the hands and words and comforting arms of God's Kingdom here on Earth. We are called by Jesus to be a People of God, to serve Others in the name of God's Anointed servant, Jesus. And we are called to forgive others, if we expect to be forgiven by God (Mark 6:14-15.)

To follow Jesus and pursue his perfect example means we must serve Others with our Works, both alone and also as a community of Faith. For whenever two or three gather in his name, the spirit of Jesus is amongst us (Matt. 18:30.) 

Jesus preached that we are to repent of our sins and live our lives completely dedicated to serving others, all the while relying fully on God's forgiveness and mercy. Only our repentance and Righteous acts can save us, not mere words or faith without repentance and Good Works, upon which we shall be judged, and only the Righteous shall be with God eternally (Matt. 25:46.)

By living according to the will of God, as shown in the life, teachings and death of God's chosen spokesman, Jesus, we grow into the likeness of God, seeking after God's perfection and growing more spiritually mature and perfect each day.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

God's Not in the Disaster - He's in the Recovery

Did God cause the horrific typhoon in the Philippines? Does God send school shootings to "test us" or tornadoes to "call people home" or as punishment for our sins? No. This is a modern (or rather, childish and Ancient) misconception, and a misreading of Scripture and the teachings of Jesus, God's anointed spokesman.

God "shows no partiality and accepts no bribes." (Deut. 10:17) and we know that God is not in the storms, the winds, or the earthquakes (1 Kings 19:11-13.) Jesus tells us that God makes the sun, "rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matt. 5:45.) Our God, therefore, is not a mere angry "storm deity."

Prayer cannot bribe God to turn away a hurricane, typhoon or tornado, and God isn't the agent of death who sends these things to "punish" us. God, says the author of the Book of Job, "shows no partiality to princes, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of His hands." And there is no "shifting or shadow" in God, writes James, the brother of Jesus (James 1:7.)

And Jesus demolishes the idea that God is partial and uses Nature to punish us, as if we somehow bring Nature's wrath upon us by our behavior. He was asked by the disciples, "'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." (John 9:2-3)

In the Book of Luke, Jesus uses two examples of disasters - a tower falling in Siloam and Pilate "mingling blood" with the Jews' sacrifices - to dispel the myth that our sins cause disasters (Luke 13:1-5.)

And these words of Jesus tell us all we need to know about the cause of Natural disasters, birth defects, and all of the things with which we struggle in our lives.

God is not in the disaster, but He is in the recovery.

In English, the word "weather" can be both a noun and a verb. The weather is an active, impersonal Natural force that acts upon us. But we are also said to be able to "weather" a storm or a tragedy.

Again, James writes that we should consider it "all joy" when turmoil comes upon us, because this adversity teaches us to become steadfast, and that leads us to become more perfect and complete (James 1:2-4.) Through the storms - whether they are Natural or the kind we encounter in our daily lives - we must rely upon God for wisdom and strength.

Jesus makes it clear that we are to be the agents of God on earth - bringing in the Kingdom of Heaven with our Works: Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter, comforting the prisoner, and responding to those who are in distress.

The face of God is the expression of love and comfort the rescue worker gives to those in need following a Natural disaster, and in the food, clothing and shelter we provide, not in the wind, rain and tumult of the storm.

Let us give thanks that we know a God Who is not The Storm, but is the Comforter after the storm!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Natural and Ongoing Graces of God! #JesusFollowers

To stand in a swimming pool and help a child swim for the first time is entirely reasonable and natural. 

To attach floats to their arms and legs, to stand with them, to hold them up, and to even move their arms for them the first times they get into the water is expected. 

But to expect to be doing this forever - to stand next to them and even move their arms when the child has entered the pool dozens of times and can swim on their own - is silly, and would be acknowledged as bad parenting by everyone.

And yet, many expect God to be just such a bad parent. "Stand behind me and move my arms or I cannot do any of the Good Works you require of me," the child - or adult - says, in effect, to their God. "Give me the ability, the GRACE, to do Good Works, or I cannot do them."

This teaching is deeply ingrained in Christendom. Once, in a sermon, Augustine of Hippo said just this, impudently praying to our Creator, "God, grant what you command, then you can command whatever you want."

Later, Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, said of God's commandments and our (in)ability to obey them, "Although the commandments teach things that are good, the things taught are not done as they are taught, for the commandments show us what we ought to do but do not give us the power to do it. They are intended to teach man to know himself, that through them he may recognize his inability to do good and may despair of his own ability."

This is an affront to God, and misunderstands not only the commands of God but also the very Nature as human beings. Just as God has granted us a certain amount of wisdom and knowledge and physical abilities from our birth - a "starter kit" of sorts - God has given us the ability to recognize what is right, and tells us that we must do what is Righteous and Good. In fact, we will be judged by it, says God's spokesman, Christ Jesus.

Grace is thought of far too narrowly by many churchmen, and it's come from centuries of misuse and misunderstanding of the term, and in bold defiance of the words of Jesus himself, who said his words will never pass away, and that his teaching that we must do Good Works and pursue Righteousness must be followed by those who claim to be his disciples.

Ongoing Grace is the strength God gives us to bolster our already innate, God-given strengths - our Natural Grace - with which we are born. From a young age, we understand the concept of shame, which usefully educates us that we have done wrong. When we learn about Jesus' teachings and lifelong example, we more fully come to understand that there is right and wrong, good and evil, and we are directed more completely towards the good, repenting of any acts that lead us to that which is evil and separates us from God, our Father.

Like any parent, God never forsakes us, and clearly, a parent will dive into a pool to save us from drowning, even after we've learned the rudimentary skills of swimming. But a good parent knows when a child can be accountable for their own actions, just as they know that is no longer necessary to stand behind a child who has long ago learned to swim. Like a coach who can speak from the poolside and give tips on who to better swim, when we ask God in prayer, God grants us the strength, wisdom and courage to become better and accomplish all that He asks of us - and all that He KNOWS we are capable of doing.

This Jesus, God's Anointed Prophet, challenges us to rise up higher and higher in our Righteousness, performing Good Works and acts that please God, all the while relying on God for forgiveness when we fail to live up to God's high standards, and relying on God's Grace to strengthen us and help us become complete. 

"You shall be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect," says Jesus. He says this not because he is teasing us or mocking our weakness, because he knows God believes we are fully capable of becoming morally strong enough to become exactly what God wishes us to become, and stands ready to help us achieve Godliness!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Coming to Terms with "The Law"

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. …Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Matt. 5:17, 19, 20.

A story was told recently (sadly, a true one) of a woman who attends a huge "mega-church" each Sunday morning. She started attending a while back, and is involved in some of their groups and programs and even puts $100 in the offering plate each week. However, each Monday, she returns to her weekday routine of selfishness, heavy drinking, and dating a married man.

Then, each Sunday, she returns to the mega-church and hears that she was already "forgiven" for her continuing vile behavior when she was baptized a while back. Further, she's told that she's GUARANTEED eternal life with God, even if she continues to sin!

Clearly, something is wrong with this message, and it's not just in her interpretation. She has in fact taken away a very different Gospel than the one Jesus taught.

So what's going on here?

The "Law" of which Jesus spoke was of course the Moral Law of the Hebrew Bible, summarized by the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Jesus never abolished God's moral Laws.

In this passage, Jesus tells us that if ANYONE relaxes these Laws, or teaches that they should be relaxed, then they will be called "least" in God's heavenly kingdom. (Even if it's her minister who tells her that "Good Works" are not necessary for salvation.)

Jesus goes on to say that our Righteous behavior must be greater than that of the Pharisees. Here, he directly links our behavior with our future entry into Heaven. Salvation is not automatic. We cannot force God to give us eternal life by attending church services or by saying a simple prayer.

Jesus clearly calls on us to repent (feel sorry for) our behavior, and to stop sinning (Matt. 4:17.) We are challenged by Jesus to become perfectly mature in our actions (Matt. 5:48) and it is by our active obedience that we will be judged worthy of entry into eternal life (Mark 19:17.)

Those who follow Jesus must walk through the "Narrow Gate" of Righteousness (Matt. 7:13-14) and we cannot rely on any others' actions or righteousness - we will be accountable for our own actions (Matt. 16:27; Mark 10:38.)

We must do what Jesus commands, and count ourselves as his friends only if we obey him (John 15:14) his words will not disappear (Matt. 24:35) and our lives will be built on a solid foundation if we obey his teachings (Luke 6:47.)
Jesus challenges us to act in accordance with God's Ideal Law for our lives, and tells us that when we fall short, God forgives us if we are trusting in God and seeking to live according to His Will.

This woman's church probably doesn't teach these important teachings of Jesus, but it should! We should be careful to follow God's Laws, as Jesus revealed them through his life, ministry and death.