Sunday, December 29, 2013

Following Jesus: A Mission Statement for Service

Organizations dedicated to serving God faithfully should never fear to spell out exactly how it will do so, and on what basis it does so.

In 2014, as the Jesus Followers organization moves out of the conceptual stage and into the “real world” as well as in the “virtual” world of the Internet, it’s fitting to spell out clearly from where it obtains its values and beliefs.

In the coming weeks, sermon/messages will focus on 13 Statements outlining the Jesus Follower organization’s faith, and a Mission Statement by which we will be guided.

This week, let’s take up the group’s Mission Statement: “Following Jesus, we love God and Serve Others, Working Righteousness,” which is at the same time simple and radical.

We are called, first and foremost, to follow Jesus. This isn't a mere word game, a passive commitment we can easily forget, or a look back upon as a past event. No, following Jesus an ongoing, substantial recognition that Jesus is a man whom God adopted and anointed as His son and prophet at his baptism, and sent into the world. Jesus says, “Come, follow me,” and expects us to not look back.

To Love God seems simple, and yet it is an all-encompassing command Jesus gives to those who say they will follow his teachings. Apart from acknowledging the absolute Oneness of God, Jesus makes it clear we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. This doesn't mean that we simply “love God” the way we love a favorite food. This is a deep love that demands from us all that we have, and all we can give. 

When we learn that God our Creator has given us much, and learn from Jesus that we will be judged by God according to our deeds, we must take God’s Will for our lives seriously, and follow the example Jesus sets for us.

That we are called by Jesus to Serve Others as ourselves is a remarkably clear teaching. We are to become the servant of others, turn the other cheek, and serving in humility. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him DENY HIMSELF and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it.”

Finally, we are clearly called by Jesus to perform Works of Righteousness, not in a spirit of pride, but in a spirit of the pure service to which we are called by God’s servant, Jesus. As followers of Jesus we are, he says, to let our light “shine before others, so that they may see your good Works and give glory to your Father, Who is in Heaven.”

So, let us go forward together in this New Year with joy in our hearts for the work we must do as servants of God as called by Jesus, His servant, and our Teacher. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Remembering Jesus' teachings at Christmas

We have grown up to love this time of year. The carols, the presents, and the pageantry of the arrival of the "Christ child," the one who will one day die, allowing us an easy path into heaven.

We check in for his miraculous birth: his mother impregnated by God, the story of wise men following wandering stars, an evil king who kills entire towns to destroy him. And then we ignore him until we are ready for him in the spring - when he is slaughtered on the cross.

In fact, many Christians believe this is the only act for which he was born.

But lost in all the anticipation of this "easy" salvation is the fact that this man was not only a baby, and not only one who was killed, but in between, he was teacher. He was a teacher, and the chosen prophet of God, who actually said things, and told us that those things, those words, will never pass away.

And yet, his teachings are often ignored or even openly disparaged by modern Christians, as if they were irrelevant and meant for another time.

Christians love the baby Jesus, love the dying Jesus, but ignore the teacher and Prophet Jesus. Why?

The teachings are difficult, and we seek the easy way - the WIDE GATE, as Jesus called it.

Jesus calls us to take the Narrow Gate, and says few will choose it. He was right.

Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, and defeat them with kindness. Today, we're told to hate our enemies and make cultural or literal war on them.

Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek if we're struck on the cheek. We are told today to be "prayer warriors" and fight back.

Jesus tells us to go into a closet and pray in secret, and not be ostentatious when we pray amongst others. But we like those long prayers that are performed in pulpits and stages for show before 10,000-member congregations.

Jesus says riches on this earth are meaningless, and we should instead act righteously to store up treasures in Heaven. Christians today pray to God to make them rich, and deny that we must be righteous at all.

Jesus tells us we will be persecuted and cursed for performing righteousness, for believing in the Gospel, and for serving God Christians today expect to receive "favor" from God - including riches and perfect health - simply because they utter Jesus' name when they pray to God.

And Jesus tells us we must perform Good Works in order to obtain the Kingdom of Heaven, and that mere words will not gain us Heavenly rewards. Christians today blatantly deny this, and teach the opposite - that a "Sinner's Prayer" magically forces God to give us eternal life.

When the teachings of Jesus are the center of our faith, we begin to live the life that God knows we can achieve. His words and commands are challenges - challenges for us to live up to our God-given potential.

Through the life and teachings and death of Jesus, we see through a glass CLEARLY towards what God intends for our lives.

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 spiritually complete.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

God is not Tony Soprano

If a man walked up to you and said, "I know a guy, a professional 'fixer,' who can get you a better job, make sure you get more money, attract a perfect mate, and even manipulate other people to make things, you know, go BETTER for you," you'd probably think he, like TV's Tony Soprano, was inviting you to join a criminal enterprise.

But shockingly, people - many, many people - believe this about GOD, the Creator of the universe! Many, in fact, believe He is in the same "business" as Tony Soprano - the business of manipulating the world to "fix" things for those He randomly selects to be in his "family." 

Many like this view of God because it means we need not DO anything to make the world better. It means we can put the burden of "Good Works" onto God and selfishly complain when God doesn't work all things out for our personal, selfish benefit. And it (allegedly) makes God seem more "God-like" to make Him a sky-dwelling puppet-master, manipulating every detail of every human life.

This may be a very ancient view (shared with ancient Paganism) but it's a completely FALSE, childish, and warped view of God, our world, and of the faith God wishes for us and believing that God our Father is manipulating people we dislike or who aren't on our "team" to lose their jobs, to have car accidents, to be injured, or to get diseases - and to believe that WE are somehow protected from these daily occurrences because God is our "fixer in the Heavens" - is to appeal to paganism and magic, but not to Jesus and his God.

This Jesus, the one God selected to tell us about God and what God requires of us, tells us that we are to conform our lives to God's Will and to seek always His perfect purity, holiness and goodness by faithful obedience. By doing this, we will be equipped to handle whatever happens to us during our daily journey. 

Jesus never tells us we will never be persecuted, hated or despised for doing this. In fact, Jesus says: be READY for it. This is what we sign up for as Jesus Followers, not golden streets, great wealth and perfect health.

In reality, Jesus calls us to a healthy, adult relationship with our Father, and wishes us to treat all people as our brothers and sisters, loving them, and Him, with all that we have. Jesus calls us to take action OURSELVES to build up God's Kingdom, through righteous acts and purified motives.

But doesn't God "move mountains?" Doesn't He work miracles, and grant us Grace to achieve what He asks of us?

Surely, God does indeed "move mountains" - by granting us ever growing faith by which we can COMPLETELY change our lives into something resembling the one His chosen Spokesman, Jesus, modeled for us during his life, and even in his death.

God does indeed change lives in miraculous ways - when our eyes are finally open and we see the wonderful spiritual principles His servant Jesus laid out for us, which will help us achieve the kind of perfection God calls us to achieve.

And God never leaves us alone, sending us His Grace when we ask for strength through prayer. And we know that we have Jesus' example and words always with us as a guidepost, showing us how we are to live according to God's Will.

When we leave aside the ignorant and pagan beliefs we have inherited from the childhood of the human race; when we put aside our belief that God is somehow a sky-dwelling Genie who will grant our wishes and erase the Laws of Nature to make us rich or healthy; and when we instead seek  a simple, profound and straight-forward faith consisting of obedience to God through the example of His Anointed one, Jesus, we enter into a healthy, joyous and adult relationship with our Father.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

What is Church FOR, Exactly?

If you were entertained by church today, you were failed by your church.

Go to the movie theater to be entertained, not church. God is the Audience, not us.

And even then, God doesn't expect a spectacle, empty phrases, long-winded sermonizing and false, ecstatic praise: He calls us to total repentance, total obedience, total love and total service to Himself and our fellow human beings. All other messages are irrelevant and worthless words that are dust in the ears of God.

As Jesus said, quoting Isaiah: some honor God with their lips, "but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

Let us go to church, then, to learn how to more perfectly love and serve God and love and serve other people, and to serve both together with others, just as God's servant Jesus taught us with his words, his life and his death. Unlike mere entertainment, which is blown away on the wind, our relationship with God is something that lasts for all eternity.

Church is the classroom where we learn how to achieve eternal life. And it's not by being entertained or assuring ourselves that we can win it by our mere empty words and ecstatic utterances.

God, our Creator, equips us from our birth to work both alone and together to serve Him through serving others. We must be up and doing the work God requires us to do, and it is joyful work, which stores for us treasure in Heaven eternally.

Church must be where we build each other up and assist in bringing in God's Kingdom here on earth, as Jesus told his disciples to do.

God wants His places of worship to be places of reverence and prayer, not of entertainment. Church, therefore, must be where we humbly and in unison praise God, and where we learn to privately, and in our daily lives, ask from God the wisdom, strength and courage to meet the challenges and trials we face.

In short, the Church is US, the people of God, the gathering of those who recognize the teachings of Jesus as imperative upon their actions, and their actions as eternally important.

Going to Church means meeting together to commune with God and with those people who share the teachings, life, death and message of Jesus, God's servant and spokesman, and who wish to encourage and support each other as we go out into the world to be its light and salt.

If we live as Jesus lived, walk as he called us to walk, we are in communion with Jesus, with God and with each other.

This is a vision of "Church" that we yearn for and one which the Jesus Followers are building.

This is a church that is called to take up the Challenge of the Gospel Jesus set for all who would follow him: to put on his yoke as a mantle and walk as he walked, do as he did - To love God with 100 percent of our being and to selflessly serve others, to love both our neighbors and our enemies, and to keep God's moral commandments in Spirit and Intention as well in their Letter.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Forgiving Others, So God Can Forgive Us

The teachings of Jesus make it crystal clear that if we expect to be forgiven by God, we must first freely offer forgiveness to others, and to do so continually.
Forgiveness is given by God freely when we ask for it, but we must in turn give forgiveness freely to others, not out of mere “gratitude” or as an optional, grudging act (and when we feel like it) but willingly, and with a contrite heart. This is a condition of our forgiveness by God.
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14-15)
Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, says Jesus (Luke 12:48) and this surely applies to forgiveness. In the Proverbs, whoever offers water to others is given water (Prov. 11:25.)
When the Scribes told Jesus that only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7) Jesus corrected them, and by example, taught that all men should forgive others’ sins and trespasses.
In the parable of the Unforgiving Servant, the King (God) calls out the wicked servant, saying, “I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Matt. 18:32-33.)
When Peter asks how many times we must forgive others, Jesus replies, “Seventy times seven” times. In other words, continually and without end.
We know that we must, on our journey of Faith, always seek God's forgiveness for our faults and failures as we strive towards this perfect expression of Righteousness God's Anointed Son, Jesus, has modeled for us. Not only, then, must we seek God’s forgiveness, we are required as a condition of receiving that forgiveness the granting of others forgiveness when they offend us.
Forgiveness, therefore, is the core of our faith in God, and its foundation. It’s an active responsibility of all who serve God through Jesus to conform our lives to a spirit of forgiveness.
When we forgive others, it allows us to grow in communion not only with them, but with God, the Father and Creator of us all.
All of this usually comes as a great shock to those who believe they need “do” nothing to achieve communion with God eternally, but they have been greatly misled. To repent of our sins and seek God’s forgiveness is to promise to forgive others and love them just as we ourselves would wish to be loved.
If Jesus can, in his dying breath, forgive those who murdered him (Luke 23:34) we can forgive those who offend us with their gossip and other petty offenses. Our God, revealed to us by Jesus, is a God of high expectations, and believes that we are able to meet and exceed them (John 14:12.) Let us forgive others in the same spirit of forgiveness offered to us by our Eternal Father.