Sunday, December 28, 2014

The God of Second Chances

Jesus teaches us about the God of Second Chances, and with every new day, and new year, we face fresh opportunities to turn back again to God.

When we come to the knowledge of God's will for our lives - that we should love God with all our heart, mind, strength and soul, and love and serve others just as we love and serve ourselves - we have embraced a new beginning, and undergo a New Birth. We are saved from sin.

Mere knowledge, however, is not enough. Mere verbal or mental assent is not enough. Emotional fervor and good feelings about God are not enough. God, our Creator, calls us to act, and do, and become better, more Spiritually complete people who reflect that which God created for us to become.

Repentance of our past sins and shortcomings gives us a clean slate - we indeed become "white as Snow" when we first ask for forgiveness and repent. But then we must commit to strive to keep ourselves clean and unspotted from a world that has not yet embraced the love and purity of God's path.

While we have not yet achieved moral completeness, all of us are called to seek it. Those who continue to recklessly sin and rebel against God's moral Law does not know God, nor the one whom God sent, Jesus.

Jesus demonstrated with his life, teachings and death the way we should respond to God's gifts. Jesus' example is our model and template.

If we follow the example of Jesus, our lives may become just as full, complete and pleasing to God as his was.

Jesus calls us to a life of Good Works in humility and compassion. Service to others leads to spiritual completeness.

We must approach his example with fear and trembling, and with great humility, and not arrogance. And of course, always seeking forgiveness from God our Father and Creator for our shortcomings.

If we seek forgiveness from God, in true repentance, then our past sins are forgiven. If we then remain in his Teachings, Jesus says we will be saved by God.

After repenting and accepting the knowledge of God's path Jesus reveals to us, we are challenged to actively live out this Faith.

But God doesn't leave us to face this challenge alone. We always have the example of Jesus, and we also have God's ever-present spiritual comfort, always there to guide, encourage and hold us tightly during times of trouble and trial.

And God has implanted within us the seeds that can grow and become a visible representation of the Kingdom of God - in this place and in this time. Knowledge of God's moral plan for our lives, shown to us by Jesus, germinates those seeds and they are nurtured by his example and God's ongoing love and strength.

Each of us can grow within us a Spiritual Abundance that gives light and hope to the world.

Let us greet every new year, new month, new day, new hour, and every new minute as a precious opportunity to serve God and our neighbors in God's name!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

5 Ways Modern Christmas Is Not Far from Jesus Christ

Is Modern Christmas really that far from Christ Jesus? In many ways, it certainly is. It focuses on “getting” far more than giving, on money and acquiring expensive things rather than on God and accruing spiritual riches, and it can often put the focus on pride, and ourselves, rather than on giving to others.

In all these things, the Christmas that we keep today is indeed far from Jesus, and from the God Who chose him to be our example and guide in all things.

Then again, our Modern Church often also reflects these failings, being too inwardly focused, centered on obtaining money and materialism, and obsessed with “rock star” preachers with huge egos.

But do those who get so upset this time of year about how “secular” Christmas has become in our lives have a point? Or are they missing some of the wonderful redeeming values of the Season, even as most non-Christians celebrate it? Let’s take a look.

1. Modern Christmas has become a time for giving, with an emphasis on those in need.
Jesus in fact said we are to give to those in need.

Jesus does not say IF we give to the needy, he gives us instructions on how to act WHEN we give to the needy (Matt. 6:2-3.) While we are not to “trumpet” our good deeds JUST to be seen by others in a prideful way, we are clearly and specifically told to give to the poor (Matt. 10:21) and “give to the one who begs from you” (Matt. 5:42.)

2. Modern Christmas features people coming around the table for big meals – including friends, co-worker, long-lost relatives and even the “black sheep” of the family.
Jesus invited people to dinner; some who weren't on the guest list of the wealthy and powerful.

“When you give a feast,” he says, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:13.) He ate with outcasts, including hated tax-collectors and with sinners (Matt. 9:10-13.) He expanded his definition of “family” to all who did the will of God (Matt 12:50.) All of this outraged the religious elites of the day.

3. Modern Christmas has become a particular time for expressing love to people, and for reconciliation, even among enemies.
Jesus called people to love one another. Even our enemies. At all times.

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44.) We are called by Jesus to love our God with all our hearts, mind, strength and soul, and to extend this same love to our neighbors (Luke 10:27.) Before gift-giving, Jesus said we must reconcile with our siblings (Matt 5:23-24.)

4. Modern Christmas has become a time when people are focused on doing good to others.
Jesus calls us to do Good Works and serve others righteously and in humility.

Jesus says, “Do unto others that which you would have done unto you” (Matt 7:12.) Jesus wishes us to, "observe all that I have commanded you." (Matt. 28:20) and says we will do even greater works than he did (John 14:12) Jesus clearly says we must “Do Good” (Luke 6:35) and serve others.

“I was hungry and you gave me food,” says Jesus. “I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” (Matt 25:35.) In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we are called to, “Go, and do the same.” (Luke 10:37)

5. Modern Christmas has become a time when we celebrate light in winter.
Jesus calls us to always let our Good Works be a beacon of light, representing God’s Kingdom made “real” in the world.

We are to let our “Light shine, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” But we cannot keep our goodness hidden, but like a lamp on a table or a city on a hill, we must show God’s love to the world through our actions. (Matt. 5:14-16.) Jesus tells us how to show this service to God – so that God’s Kingdom would come (Matt. 6:10) – and also how to serve others: to clothe the naked, care for the sick, house the homeless, feed the hungry (Matt. 25:35-41.)

Of course, the clear difference between the “secular” Christmas and the Message Jesus proclaims to us is that Jesus’ message is what we who follow him are called to follow year-round, not just during one season.

None other than that secular Christmas celebrant, Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, said the same. “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

That, too, is what Jesus asks of us. And as Tiny Tim might say, “May God bless us, everyone,” at this precious time of the year, and always.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

True Justice

Do we truly believe in Justice? It's very popular to say we do. Religious denominations are constantly passing resolutions calling for "Justice" for this or that oppressed group. And it's good to be aware of oppression and injustice in a broad and universal sense.

Scripture tells us, however, that it's better, and more effective, to act justly every day to our fellow human beings. We can rather too easily SAY that we "love all people" with smug satisfaction, thinking we've done something simply by saying so.

But it's often harder to love the people who stand beside us, live among us and are seeking justice, kindness and mercy FROM us. But it's a challenge the prophets and Jesus say that God wishes us to take up and make a part of our daily lives.

Micah the prophet is often wisely quoted as telling us God wishes us to act in a just manner towards others. "HE has told you, O man, what is good; and what does GOD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (6:8)

Jeremiah is another prophet who speaks about justice, taking pains to note that justice starts WITHIN OURSELVES, in the amendment of our own actions, and this leads to peaceful living among each other:

"Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ “Because if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail." (Jeremiah 7:1-8.)

Jesus echoes these words, saying we cannot simply say to God, "LORD, LORD," and not put His commandments, and the example of Jesus, into action within our lives.

Justice is achieved by individual acts of service and acts of kindness today, not in bold proclamations of what we will do in the future.

Isaiah said that God called Israel to, "Maintain justice and do what is right" (56:1) and that's a lesson for us today, as well. Elsewhere, after he famously calls for us to "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean" he says we must "learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow." This firmly places justice at the center of action, not theory or speculation, or good intentions.

The Roman world in which Jesus and his fellow Judeans lived was far from just. Rome ruled its empire by imperial decree, and Judea itself was governed through a puppet king, who himself was answerable to Pontius Pilate, the brutal and ruthless Roman governor.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees for dealing with lesser matters, but neglecting, "the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others" (Matt. 23:23.) He said elsewhere in the Gospels that Jesus "will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. (Matt 12:18) and our acts were to be like a light and as salt to the world (Matt. 5:13-14.)

It is clear from the wisdom of Scripture and from our Master's words that our individual actions are the key to spreading justice, and that God wishes those who would be called "righteous" to act justly.

Today, it's very easy to have "deceptive words," that are without meaning without action. We must not refuse to take actual action within our own lives - concrete, specific and effective action that is LOCAL in nature and actually makes justice into something other than an abstraction.

- Good intentions and warm spiritual feelings we keep within us that are never acted upon do not bring justice.

- Mere angry words and endless proclamations condemning others' injustice do not in fact bring true justice to others better than our humble, everyday acts of justice and kindness.

- The condemnation of Good Works, and imagining Jesus does not require us to act righteously, does not bring justice.

So, let us renew in this coming year to instead LITERALLY act justly with others, letting each of our individual actions kindle justice to shine as a light to the world, spreading justice and equity wherever we go and in whatever we do!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Loving God With Jesus' Simple Faith

God calls us, through Jesus, to love Him with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all of our strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

This the core of the selfless and life-giving Gospel given to us by the one whom God chose and sent out to us, Jesus.

We become whole and complete beings when we serve God and others in His name, and seeking to do this completes our spirits.

Jesus says we are to come to him like a child:

"But Jesus said, 'Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'" (Matt. 19:14)

Children easily believe, and their love is pure and natural. Children have a faith in God as the Creator and Father of us all.

Childlike obedience, childlike love, childlike trust in God, all lead to a spirituality that leads us into God's presence, and helps us show God to others.

When our spirits are in union with God, we achieve the Spiritual Abundance and wholeness of life that God means us to have.

And Jesus showed us, by the example of his life, teachings and death, that we may become spiritually complete and become all God wishes us to be. This is the amazing and glorious gift that God has shown us through Jesus.

The Gospel that Jesus preached is simple and pure and easily believable:

Love God. Love others. Live Righteously. Serve others. Do Good Works. In this way, we bring in - and actively live in - God's Kingdom.

That is it. Full Stop.

But because we humans like to over-think and over complicate things, we have added much to this Gospel.

Human beings throughout the centuries have polluted this pure message with complicated and confusing doctrines that negate every part of the Gospel.

Did Jesus preach (as later men taught) that all men were born evil, and are unable to obey God, without God giving him extra and special powers to do so? Or did he preach that we had the ability to obey God, and would be judged according to our deeds, and that our acts MUST be righteous?

Did Jesus preach (as later men said) that he was equal to God, and therefore we need only worship his Personhood in order to be saved, eternally? Or did he preach his utter dependence upon God, his Father (and ours) and that only obedience in righteousness leads to salvation?

Did Jesus preach (as men do) that we must wait for him to come back to earth with an avenging army before the Kingdom of God comes? Or did he preach that we must seek to bring in the Kingdom IMMEDIATELY with our acts of love, compassion and service to others?

Did Jesus preach (as men do) that we can pray to God to attain material wealth, increase our power over others, and have all our physical desires granted? Or did he call us to seek spiritual treasures from Heaven, and to serve God and others even in our material poverty?

Human beings are born capable, thanks to God's gifts, of doing great and amazing things. We send rockets to space, explore the deepest seas, and create works of fiction that amaze and entertain us. But we also create excuses by citing man-made doctrines that falsely assure us that we need NOT do Good Works or actively serve our fellow human beings.

During his ministry, Jesus condemned the doctrines of men, which were being put above the love of God. Men created mythologies and doctrines that put empty ritual and dogma ahead of God's love and our requirement to serve and love others.

Should we be surprised that doctrines of men still dominate the powerful dominant religion of today? These strange doctrines we are taught as "Faith" today are encrusted with complicated theologies that defy definition, cleverly devised to keep us from the simple Gospel of Jesus. They are indeed another man's "gospel" rather than the pure and simple one Jesus left us.

Jesus was given God's message and conveyed it simply and clearly to us.

We must return to the simplicity and childlike faith that Jesus left us, putting aside the childishness and foolishness that men want to require us to believe in its place.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Knowing Jesus - and His Teachings

"Do you know Jesus?" This is the question many evangelists ask when proselytizing. Usually, it's the first one they ask.

Most of us do know OF Jesus, even if only from hearing about him in our childhood.

But it's actually a very dangerous question, because it implies that KNOWING about Jesus is enough.

Mere knowledge ABOUT a teacher isn't the same as knowing the teacher's lessons, nor does knowing them mean we have committed to following those lessons, just that we know about the teacher.

Knowing Jesus is the beginning of our faith. Coming to know the teachings and path Jesus lays out for us is our faith's completion.

It is in following the teachings of this teacher, Jesus, that we find peace, and our lives become spiritually abundant.

We cannot stop at simply "knowing" Jesus' name, or merely give verbal assent to the stories surrounding him, or believing that calling his name out loud carries a magical, mystical power of some sort. We must also learn that it is by hearing AND doing what Jesus teaches that we are saved from sin and grow within us a spiritually abundant life.

If we neither know nor do the teachings of Jesus, we're not "saved." For those who claim to know him but do not follow his teachings does not know him at all (John 13:17; Matt. 7:24; 1 John 2:4.)

Jesus says if we love him, we will obey his teachings; and Jesus teaches us to live completely for God and completely for others. In this, WE become complete.

Calling out "Lord, Lord" (that is: "Master, Master) and speaking vain words to God in Jesus' name do not save us either here or in the afterlife, says Jesus.

We gain eternal life - and an abundant Spiritual life - by knowing God's Moral Laws and doing them in Spirit and in Truth. Love of God and love of Others is the core of Jesus' teaching on Love, and summarized the teachings of the Jewish prophets and Law. (Matt. 19:17; 22:40; Luke 10:26-28.)

The example of Jesus shows us the life to which we can aspire, and his righteousness is the criterion by which we are judged by God (Matt. 16:27.)

Jesus arrived at perfect obedience by doing all things for which he was sent by his Father, and has shown by his example that we are all able to obey God. He calls us to do all that he has done - and MORE! (John 14:12)

If we call Jesus our Master and trust his words, then our deeds will reflect his example, bringing us an abundant Spiritual life.

We are called to serve others selflessly, seek God's forgiveness constantly, and give of ourselves to others endlessly. Jesus was chosen by God to be His prophetic spokesman; a perfect example for us in life and death of what God wishes us to be. He has called on us to follow him in all things.

This example of Jesus is a gift from God, assuring us that we, too may live the way God wishes us to live.

That is the message Jesus delivered to us as the Gospel (“Beneficial Message.”) There are no further mysteries, no creeds based on complicated Greek philosophies, no man-made dogma based on Lawyerly speculations or endless debates about others mens' imagined interpretations about his life.

Jesus calls us to put his teachings into practice, lest we build our houses of faith on the shifting sands of mere words and empty praise.

Let us go out into the world and serve Jesus and our fellow human beings, bringing in the Kingdom of God with each act of Righteousness!

Because by our acts, the world will learn that we do know Jesus!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Jonah and God’s Mercy #JesusFollowers

Jesus spoke frequently of God's mercy, forgiveness and our need for repentance. No story in the Hebrew Scriptures better illustrates this than the story of Jonah.

Jonah the Prophet was sent by God to Nineveh, to call on them to forsake their evil ways and repent. Jonah (after famously fleeing and being brought back on track by a whale) does as he is commanded and Nineveh actually repents, turning to God in true and genuine repentance, seeking forgiveness for their sins.

In this parable of God's mercy, Jonah, now a successful prophet, is furious with God, because he believes he was made to look like a chump for calling down God's wrath. He complains to God that, "I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" and that he KNEW that God would be merciful to them if they repented from their sins (Jonah 4:1.) And Jonah was correct.

The story of Jonah, like the ministry of Jesus, illustrates God's unlimited mercy and forgiveness. Both are available to us when we repent of our sins and choose to follow God's path of Righteousness instead.

Jesus refers to Nineveh and their repentance during his ministry, saying, "The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment and condemn the people living today, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah. But look, something greater than Jonah is here!" (Luke 11:30.)

The men of Nineveh were held up by Jesus as examples for those in Judea who were acting in unrighteous ways.

God asks Jonah after his outburst, "Is it right for you to be angry?" (4:4) And it's a good question, and one that's still relevant. Because like Jonah, some modern Christians are very angry with God for being too generous with His mercy and forgiveness.

And yet, God has mercy on those whom HE chooses to have mercy. James writes, "Mercy triumphs over judgment." (James 2:13)

The truth is, God isn't bound by OUR ideas of Justice and Condemnation. God's ways are not OUR ways. While we may  decide that some people do not deserve God's mercy, and must first "pay a price" for falling short of His high standards, God does not condemn based on our whims or theories about who is "in" and who is "out" of his loving embrace, either now or eternally.

"I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," God tells Moses. "And I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." (Ex. 33:19)

The Hebrew Bible, consistent with the teachings of Jesus, tell us we may ALL return to God when we forsake evil and turn back to God's holy path of Righteous living.

"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7) Isaiah told the children of Israel to turn back to God, against Whom they had deeply and greatly revolted (Isaiah 31:6.)

The people of Jesus' day were also revolting against God, and Judean society was to pay a heavy price for that rebellion within just 40 years of Jesus' preaching (Mark 13:30.)

The wisdom of God is that we may forsake our sins and repent, then we will find God's mercy waiting for us (Prov. 28:13.) And if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9.)

What does God require of us? Mercy. Jesus says those who seek mercy shall have it (Matt. 5:7) and in turn we are called to "Be merciful" just as our Father in Heaven is merciful. And as we are forgiven and receive mercy, we are called upon to forgive others and have mercy upon others (Luke 6:36-37.)

But wait - can God just show mercy to us - without retribution or payment? Just like that? Yes.

God isn't the elected leader of a government we created, nor is He bound by rules we think He must follow. No one should say, "God cannot show mercy because He is bound be laws to be unmerciful." or, "We must pay a price before we get mercy from God." No, God's mercy transcends His judgment, when we repent with a pure heart and genuineness. All the Hebrew Scriptures and our Master, Jesus, testify clearly to this wonderful Truth.

God requires nothing but our genuine repentance to "earn" his mercy. Hosea and Jesus both inform us that God requires "mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:6; Matt. 9:13; Matt. 12:7) The Prophet Micah says we are to "love Mercy" (6:6)

We are blessed to know a God Who does not curse us with other's sins, and Who freely grants mercy to the repentant!

King David writes: "When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long." But, "I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD GOD,' and You forgave the iniquity of my sin." (Psalm 32.)

Having received the mercy of God, we are called by our Master, Jesus to show mercy to others. We show in our service to others - the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the homeless, the destitute and the suffering - that we understand what God's mercy means to us. And because we have the example of this man, Jesus, who achieved God's Standard of excellence, we know we are capable of doing what God asks of us.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Did Jesus Promise His Followers Material Prosperity?

A passage in the Gospel of Luke gives many today the idea that Jesus teaches us that God wants us to be rich – and if we only give out money (to others, especially to Evangelical Christian ministers) – then God will make us rich, too!

Luke 6:38 reads: "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

This has become a very popular “proof text” to show that God indeed wants us to become wealthy in this life as a sign of His blessing and “favor” above other people.

But those who assert this are not at all hearing the plain (and clear) words God’s chosen, anointed one, Jesus.

In fact, taken in context, Jesus was speaking of reciprocity – doing to others as we would have others do to (and for) us:

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

This is a call to serve and give to others both equally and generously, and for us to serve and give to those who are serving US just as generously – without judgment or condemnation. How wrong it is to turn this into a "Return on Investment" scheme in which we contractually force God into paying us when we give his ministers money!

If we actually listen to Jesus, he speaks clearly to us about wealth – and in fact, he speaks about wealth and poverty perhaps more than on any other topic. 

"And he said to them, 'Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his  possessions.'" (Luke 12:15) 

Is that a clear message about seeking wealth and earthly possessions? How frequently Evangelical pastors forget to quote THIS verse!

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21

The message begins: “DO NOT lay up for yourselves treasures on earth.” Is that a message that tells us we will be showered with wealth in this life? Clearly, it’s not the money we acquire, it’s the goodness in our hearts and the purity of our actions that "lay up treasure" in Heaven.

And when the one we call “Master” says, “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24) how much clearer does he have to be?

Jesus also told a Rich Man who asked what he must do to be saved (after telling him to obey the commandments) to sell his possessions (Mark 10:17-22.) What would a well-off family today think when told they must do this to be Saved? Can you imagine how surprised they would be!

And yet, many church-attenders today have been taught by their pastors that if they think positive thoughts, have a lot of faith, and “name and claim” the material goods they desire, God will instantly give these things to them.

But we are not told by Jesus to “name and claim” riches in the name of God. This is magic, not the God-centered faith Jesus preached. Instead, Jesus says repeatedly and plainly that we should not put our trust in earthly riches, NOR SHOULD WE SEEK THEM, instead seeking the Kingdom of God and praying that we may bring God’s Righteousness into our own lives, and on this earth.

What Jesus preached was consistent with the Wisdom of the Prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures.

"Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf." we learn from the Proverbs (11:28.)

The Pslamist writes, "Though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them" (Psalm 62:10.) And warns about those who, "trust their riches and brag about their abundant wealth" (Psalm 49:6.) and warns against "the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth" (Psalm 52:7.)

Jesus and the Hebrew Bible instead both call us to be rich in Righteous ACTIONS, even if we are poor in our finances. Jesus and Scripture both teach that riches are judged by what we accrue in Heaven, not on earth. And both teach that poverty in spirit is worse than poverty in material wealth. In fact, material wealth often gets in the way of spiritual wealth.

Calling upon God for money, and measuring God’s "favor" and blessings by the money we acquire from God makes God into a Heavenly ATM machine, where we get whatever we wish and our desires are gratified, instantly. 

Whenever Jesus opens his mouth, his message negates this gross parody of God’s Kingdom.

Let us serve God with abundant spiritual Riches, loving God and our fellow human beings as Jesus calls us to do for the sake of God’s Kingdom. As we do this, we will grow eternally in Heavenly Riches that will never fade away and rust and moth cannot never touch.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Re-Thinking "Church"

The feelings of holiness and joy we have when we're in church for one day a week should match the way we live our lives the other six days.

But if we see holiness and joy as commodities we load up into our minds during church, rather than things we are called upon to express through our actions during the week, we're missing the point of church.

God knows us intimately, and knows of what we are capable, and when we need encouragement and wisdom to achieve His will, God stands ready to help us. In the same way, we must be always ready, too, to help our neighbors.

This Earth is not a dreary waiting room, where we sit patiently, anticipating death and a heavenly reward. The world is not a global funeral home, it's our first home, a place for joyful service, spiritual growth and a celebration of God's gifts.

The church also is our home, where we encourage and love one another, in preparation for joyful service to those outside our spiritual family as well as those within it. Church is the place where we encourage each other to become better and more whole and perfect.

Church is a wasted hour if it merely entertains the bored, reassures the lazy, and soothes the comfortable. 

In church, we are not the audience, God is. This is something we cannot forget.

A church gathering fails if it doesn't focus its worship on God, challenge people to love and serve God and our neighbors, and call them to Good Works and Righteousness that become physical acts of Light and Salt to the world. It should be a place in which we enrich our spiritual lives and also rededicate our entire Being to serve God and others in His name with our hands, as well as our mouths.

But Church is more than a building. In fact, when its only viewed as a building, we see only the mere composition of a structure rather than on the One Whom it is meant to honor.

We are told by God's chosen Son, Jesus, that we are to serve and love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and all of our strength. Putting others first, even to our own detriment (or to the detriment of a more comfortable building in which to worship) is the calling we are sent out to proclaim to others.

Should we not view the church in the same way? A church focused on a celebrity pastor, selling trinkets, or on the next multi-million dollar expansion project seems far from the Kingdom of God of which Jesus spoke.

THAT Kingdom, for which Jesus was commissioned by God and for which Jesus sent others out into Judea and the world, was focused on serving the poor, the widow, the orphan, the suffering, the hungry, the naked, and the oppressed.

Do mega-churches and expensive buildings and well-paid ministers and entertaining bands advance this Kingdom, or ignore it? Does all of Christendom's emphasis on the Self and seeking material gain that rusts and fades away advance the Kingdom? Or should we re-evaluate what "Church" means in the context of the one who founded it, Jesus?

We follow Jesus in joyful sacrifice, even if that means sacrificing our shiny new buildings and our comfort.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

When Trials Come Our Way

We can be assured that in this world, we will face trials and troubles, conflict and chaos. But we know that God will always be with us as a source of comfort and strength.

We are confronted with unpleasant and angry people, at work and in our families.

We are torn by indecision and conflict, both within ourselves and among others.

We are given chances to lives immorally and treat others unjustly.

And we are faced with challenges that threaten our passion for righteousness and goodness.

But God is with us as our source of strength and wisdom, to guide us in times of trouble.

"Don't be afraid," God assures us. "because I'm with you, don't be anxious, because I am your God. I keep on strengthening you; I'm truly helping you. I'm surely upholding you with my victorious right hand." (Isaiah 41:10)

Our God "gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak" (Is. 40:29.)

Jesus, the one whom God chose to be our example and teacher in all things, says we can call upon God in prayer when we need strength, peace and comfort.

To hope for a life of ease, without any problems and a guarantee of wealth,  power, health and fame is not the Way Jesus promises us. Instead, Jesus tells us what the Prophets of old told us, that we are not alone because we have God with us.

We are to find peace not in a vague IDEA of Jesus, but in the life, message and death of this man that God chose and sent out to us as a supreme example.

Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." (John 14:27)

And, further, he says, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Peace, or "shalom," was, and remains, a greeting for the Jewish people. It signals that God's peace is with us, and that we may take comfort in God's sheltering arms.

The Psalmist assures us that, "Yahweh is my strength and my shield. My heart has trusted in Him, and I am helped. Therefore my heart greatly rejoices. With my song I will thank Him." (Psalm 28:7)

James the Brother of Jesus says trials and troubles strengthen us and make us more perfect (James 1:2-4.) Wisdom is freely given from God, if we ask for it in faith, he says (1:5.)

We may call upon God for wisdom in our times of need, knowing He provides us with all we ask of Him (Matt. 7:7.)

We are urged by Jesus to "remain steadfast" and "endure to the end" (Mark 13:13) seeking after Heavenly treasure when we go to God in prayer (Matt. 6:20; 6:33)

Again, Jesus calls us to hear his words and understand them, bearing fruit and harvesting good works in this world. But when we allow his words to fall on rocky soil, "when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word" that person "immediately" falls away (Matt. 13:20-23.) We must instead by firmly rooted in the teachings of Jesus and the knowledge that God has given us through him and through the Scriptures.

And as the winds of turmoil beat against our lives, if we remain planted firmly in the rock of Jesus' teachings, we will prevail against them. (Matt. 7:24-27)

When we trust in God and follow the one whom He has chosen, we need never fear whatever the world throws at us, because we can endure to the end.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pleasing God, not People

Pleasing others by compromising our values is wrong.  But as followers of Jesus, we are called by him to serve others ahead of ourselves in the name of God.

"People pleasing" is rightly condemned as a "trap" that can lead us to do things solely to make others like us. Sometimes, we are tempted to compromise our values and ethics to please others: a boss, co-worker, neighbor, or friend, just to win favor with them.

But it's easy to mistakenly glean from those teaching and preaching against this danger that we start believing that ALL things that please others is wrong, and that we must always please the Self first.

Jesus calls us to please God, and put others first in God's name. Jesus teaches us that we should humbly perform Good Works and Holy Service.

Inherent in Jesus' parables is the duty - not just casual, optional advice, but the duty - to go above and beyond in our service of others.

"I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me" (Matt. 25:36.)

"If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles" (Matt. 5:41.)

As Jesus' brother James puts it, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:26.)

Jesus has called us to a religion of works and action, of radical love and service. There are numerous ways we can put this to work in our lives:

- Giving up lunch in a fancy restaurant to take a co-worker to lunch for the week.

- Sacrificing the family vacation and giving the money instead to house a a family after a fire.

- Literally obeying Jesus and giving your coat, and more, to someone in need.

- Spending time with a sick or hurting loved one, friend, or stranger.

Giving of your time to serve another in need is Christlike and holy. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves in the Godly service of others.

Putting one's own needs on hold when it feels difficult is a short-term sacrifice, not an exercise in "people pleasing," because Jesus challenges us to love others and serve others sacrificially, and demonstrated that love and service by his life and death.

Jesus calls us to do just as he has done, because it pleases God, our Father and Creator.

By Jesus' example, we learn to be humble servants of God, and by his example, we are saved from the sin of self-absorption.

Does it hurt sometimes to put yourself in Second Place, or in Last Place, behind others? Yes. But Jesus teaches that the last are first in the Kingdom of God, and that the World's treasures, and measures, are not God's.

While we should never give out of fear (that we won't be liked) let us never fear to give of ourselves in Godly service.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

50 Things Jesus Taught

If we believe Jesus’ words will live forever, what he said during his brief ministry should be the cornerstone of our religion and how we best relate to God. It is this God, our Father, who chose and sent Jesus out into the world to show by word and deed how we should live Godly lives.

Jesus' words and Teachings echo down through the centuries, calling out to us, urging us to follow him. And while similarities with others' words exist, none have challenged us to serve God with such love and devotion and Righteousness as Jesus has done.

There is simply nothing that compares with his Teachings, and they should never be demeaned, wished away or interpreted by others as being insignificant or not applicable for today.

This is meant to be a summary, not a complete listing. And yet, if this is all we knew of Jesus, it would guide us perfectly on the path of life that God wishes for us.

1. Repent – Matthew 4:17

2. Follow Me – Matthew 4:19

3. Rejoice – Matthew 5:12

4. Let Your Light Shine – Matthew 5:16

5. Honor God’s Law – Matthew 5:17–18

6. Let Your Righteousness Exceed Others’ – Matthew 5:20

7. Be Reconciled, Not Angry – Matthew 5:24–25

8. Do Not Commit Adultery – Matthew 5:29–30

9. Let Your “Yes” be “Yes” Without Oaths – Matthew 5:37

10. Go the Extra Mile – Matthew 5:38-42

11. Love And Pray For Your Enemies – Matthew 5:44

12. Seek to Be Perfect In Godliness – Matthew 5:48

13. Do Not Practice Righteousness Just To Be Seen – Matthew 6:1

14. Do Not Pray Like Pagans – Matthew 6:7-8

15. Forgive Those Who Sin Against You – Matthew 6:14

16. Seek Heavenly Treasures – Matthew 6:19–21

17. Seek God’s Kingdom—Matthew 6:33

18. Do Not Be Anxious – Matthew 6:34

19. Do Not Judge Hypocritically – Matthew 7:1

20. Beware of Covetousness – Luke 12:15

21. Ask, Seek, and Knock – Matthew 7:7–8

22. Do Unto Others – Matthew 7:12

23. Seek the Narrow Gate – Matthew 7:13-14

24. Deny Yourself—Luke 9:23

25. Pray For Laborers – Matthew 9:38

26. Be Wise as Serpents – Matthew 10:16

27. Fear Not – Matthew 10:26

28. Take My Yoke Upon You – Matthew 11:29

29. Honor Your Parents—Matthew 15:4

30. Beware of False Prophets—Matthew 7:15

31. Despise Not Little Ones – Matthew 18:10

32. Deal Justly With Offenders – Matthew 18:15

33. Practice Godly Forgiveness (70x7) – Matthew 18:22

34. Honor Marriage – Matthew 19:6

35. Keep God’s Commandments – Matt. 19:17

36. Be a Servant – Matthew 20:26-28

37. Be a House of Prayer – Matthew 21:13

38. Ask in Faith – Matthew 21:21–22

39. Seek Not to Be Honored and Exalted – Luke 14:7-11

40. Bring in the Poor – Luke 14:12–14

41. Render to Caesar—Matthew 22:19–21

42. Love God With All Your Being – Matthew 22:37-38

43. Love Your Neighbor As Yourself – Matthew 22:39

44. Be Born Again – John 3:7

45. Keep My Commandments—John 14:15

46. Feed My Sheep – John 21:15-16

47. Baptize My Disciples—Matthew 28:19

48. Make Disciples – Matthew 28:20

49. Do As I have Done – John 13:15

50. Do Greater Things Than I Have Done – Matthew 14:12

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Jesus, Our Teacher

Jesus was chosen by God to be our teacher, but not just a teacher, our complete example. In Jesus, we have our model for how God wishes us to live, and in him is our assurance that a human being may live according to God's will.

Jesus calls us to live lives of radical love, radical service and radical obedience. And invites us to become his life-long students, learning to serve God and Others. 

To consider Jesus as anything less than a teacher who challenges his students to achieve greatness makes Jesus into something less, something small, something light and easy to obtain.

That which we obtain cheaply, we esteem lightly. A gift freely given, a gift unwrapped and unused, is a worthless gift, regardless of the cost. Teachings unused, and unapplied, are exactly the same - useless.

The word "Teachings" can have a weak sense about it. Some who claim his name even MOCK Jesus' teachings, as if they are not really that important.

But we can flippantly follow the moral teachings of a philosopher, or not. We can heed a schoolteachers' teachings, or casually ignore them. But if we believe God chose Jesus as humanity's teacher, his teachings are vital to all that we do. 

And to call ourselves his students, then, is the most important thing we can do, because these teachings are the most pure, most Godly and therefore most important teachings ever shared amongst the human race. 

To follow Jesus' teachings is a challenge no other teacher has ever made.

No other teacher has called us to live lives of radical love - a love that dares equate what we give to our neighbors, to strangers, and even to our enemies, to what we give our SELVES. 

No other teacher has called us to live lives of radical service - a service that leads us to think of Others first, to deny our own needs, to care for all who are suffering and in need, and to always do more than is required. 

And no other teacher has called us to live lives of radical obedience - serving God completely, repenting of our past sins, seeking Heavenly, rather than Earthy treasure, and striving to live in complete and perfect obedience to God's will.

Some say that we can never be perfect students, so why even listen to the teachings? Others believe they can get an "A+" by just being the teacher's pet, or that they can contemptuously ignore the teacher's instructions, but still graduate simply by shouting that same teacher's praises! But Jesus says it doesn't work that way. 

The easy path, where all doors are opened for us and all gates are wide, isn't the path Jesus calls us to tread.

Instead, Jesus knows that, like all students, we will fall short, we will fail, and we won't do our best at all times. No student gets an A+ all the time, and certainly without effort, and Jesus never expected instant perfection from those who accepted his instruction. 

God didn't choose Jesus as our teacher to mock us, and Jesus - like any good teacher - doesn't mock us for falling short of the goals that God set for us, either. 

We are called by Jesus to seek God's forgiveness when we fall short of these very, very challenging goals. We have the gift of prayer to seek wisdom and strength to achieve them, and the knowledge that God's forgiveness is infinite, as long as we are seeking Godly Righteousness, and that we repent when we sin.

Jesus challenges us to be better students of Godly Righteousness. This teacher, Jesus, is worthy of our full attention and devotion. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

God Has Not Left Us Alone

Are we alone?

This is a question many of us ask when we gaze up at the stars at night.

While we many never know if alien beings inhabit the planets circling one or more of the countless stars in our universe, we can know for certain that no, we are not alone in the universe.

The Rev. Thomas Belsham wrote, amazingly, in 1826: 
"Behold the starry orbs, glittering like spangles, innumerable in the vast expanse of heaven. Conceive each star a sun, and each sun as the center, the fountain of light and heat to many habitable worlds, as large as, or larger than, the planet in which we dwell. Conceive of thousands of worlds, and clusters of suns and systems beyond these: of millions and millions remoter still than those. Who was the author of this stupendous fabric? God is the sole Architect. And God is love - infinite, immutable Love."
And he was right. The same God who oversaw the creation of trillions of stars – each one a massive, fiery nuclear furnace coalescing together to produce and spew forth unmeasurable amounts of energy for untold millennia – this God also loves each of us, here on this tiny globe in an average-sized galaxy.

While this mighty God, "determines the number of stars" and "gives to all of them their names" (Psalm 147:3) He also “heals the brokenhearted” (147:2.) He is aware of us, and knows our names, as well.

"The Heavens," the Psalmist says about God, "are Yours, and the earth and all that is in it, You have founded them" (Psalm 89:11.) 

Even when we cannot find another soul to turn to, we must know that God is always there, awaiting our words, our thoughts and also our pain.

This same God created our very souls, watching over us, knowing our hearts, caring about our welfare, and hoping for us the wholeness and completeness that He, himself enjoys.

Our Master and Teacher, Jesus, says God knows when sparrows fall from the sky, and knows the number of hairs on our head. Do we, then, believe God is not aware of our suffering and inner turmoil?

We all experience loneliness, alienation from others, and a feeling that we have nowhere to turn, and no one who will listen. But God is here, with us, even as he oversees the entire Universe. God is that big, and that close.

And God did not leave us alone. He sent us an example – our Master, Jesus – to show us how He wants us to live.

This Jesus served others completely, and he calls us to be there for others – just as he has done. He calls us to serve God and also to serve others: to clothe the naked, care for the sick, house the homeless, feed the hungry (Matt. 25:35-41.)

Even in our loneliness, we are called out to pick ourselves up and serve our neighbors, easing their loneliness and filling their needs. We are called to be the ones to whom others can turn and find comfort. We are to be the light of this world, just as a billion billion God-created suns light in our sky. And, not by accident, our service to others erases both their loneliness and ours, as well.

God waits for us to turn our troubled eyes towards Him, and He has promised that, like the Prodigal Son, He will always welcome back all who seek His warm embrace. And as long as we serve God, and others in His name, know that we can never truly be alone.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Christian Religion We Should be Seeking

(Guest minister Rev. Henry Ware, Jr.)

Religion, in a general sense, is founded on our relationship and accountability to our Maker; and it consists in cherishing the sentiments and performing the duties which result from this, and which belong to the other relations to other beings which God has appointed us to sustain.

Religion, with us, is the Christian religion. It is found in the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. It consists in the worship, the sentiments, and the character, which he enjoined, and which he illustrated in his own life.

What we are to seek, therefore, is, under the guidance of Jesus Christ, to develop our relationship to God, and to live under a sense of responsibility to Him and to perform all the duties to Him and them, deriving from this character and relationship. Whoever does this is a religious person, or, in other words, a Christian.

If we desire to be Christians, three things are required: belief in the truths which the Gospel reveals; possession of the state of mind which it enjoins; and performance of the duties which it requires: or, I might put it, the subjection of the mind by faith, the subjection of the heart by love, the subjection of the will by obedience. This universal submission of ourselves to God is what we are to aim at. This is Religion.

It is a rule of life; it is the law of God; causing the external conduct to correspond to the principle which is established, and the sentiment which breathes, within; bringing every action into a conformity with the divine will, and making holiness the standard of the character.

Love to God and man is declared by the Savior to be the substance of religion. As a law or rule, it is a commandment of God, requiring obedience. We are 'to do his will.' 'If you will enter into life, keep the commandments.' And, 'He who keeps my commandments, he it is who loves me.”

This is the personification of religion. This is the model which we are to imitate. And it is when we are imbued with this spirit, when we are filled with this sentiment, when our words, actions, and life, shall be only the spontaneous expression of this state of mind, we will have attained the religious character, and become spiritually children of God. We will have built up the kingdom of God within us; its purity, its devotion, and its peace, will be shed abroad in our hearts, and it will display itself in the manners and conduct of our lives.

To attain and perfect this character is to be the object of our desires, and the business of our lives. We must never lose sight of it. In all that we learn, think, feel, and do, we are to have reference to this end. Whatever tends to promote this, we are to cherish and favor.

It is plain, that this occurs only by a surrender of our entire lives to the will of God, in faith, affection, and action; by a thorough imitation of Jesus in the devout and humble temper of his mind, in the spirituality of his affections, and in the purity and loveliness of his conduct.

Anything less than this, any partial, external, superficial conformity to a rule of decent living or ritual observance, is wholly insufficient.

Who will hope to receive salvation without actual obedience? Where is it promised to those who will do nothing in the way of self-government and active virtue? Where is it offered to any, except those who seek it by, “bringing forth fruits in keeping with repentance?”

We must be on our guard, therefore, from the first, against setting our mark too low. We must not allow ourselves to be persuaded that anything less is Religion, or will answer for you, than its complete and highest measure. Remember that these things must be ' in you and abound.'

The higher you aim, the higher you will reach; but if content with a low aim, you will forever fall short. The scriptural word is Perfection. Strive after that. Never be satisfied while short of it, and then you will be always improving. But if we put a limit on our devotion and love, we will at some point believe we have reached it, and will remain in a condition far below what we might have attained.

Remember always, that we are capable of being more devout, more charitable, more humble, more devoted and earnest in doing good, better acquainted with religious truth. It is because people do not think of this, or do not practically apply it, that so many, even of those who intend to govern themselves by Christian motives, remain so deficient in excellence. They adopt a low or a partial standard, and strive after it sluggishly, and thus come to a period in religion before they arrive at the close of life.

Happy are those who are so filled with longings after spiritual good that they go on improving to the end of their days!

(By Rev. Henry Ware, Jr. (April 21, 1794 - September 22, 1843.) Abridged and adapted from, “Formation of the Christian Character,” 1831.)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Can We REALLY Follow Jesus?

Jesus teaches: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” And, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 14:15; 13:15.)

The words and teachings of Jesus have great weight. They never pass away, and they speak plainly and clearly for us today, nearly 2,000 years after they were spoken.

Jesus is our example in all things, and his life, teachings and even his death taught us the power of repentance, love and forgiveness to bring us into close fellowship with God. And these teachings of his must never be diminished, belittled, or explained away, because they hold the power of our salvation from sin within them.

But Jesus didn't just teach, or give commands, he also gave us an example that he said we could follow. Jesus lived, taught and died as a pure moral example, that we should follow him.

His ministry shows us how to serve and love others the way God wants us to love and serve others. He said we must follow his example and do as he had done, and that is the challenge we accept when we become his followers.

Jesus ate with the outcasts, those the Religious Elites of his day believed should never be touched, spoken to or taught. But Jesus said he wasn't ministering to the healthy and the Righteous, but to those who were ill with sin, and needed a physician.

Jesus said that we must repent - turn from - those things which separate us from God. When we turn back to God, Jesus says it's as if we return to our father after squandering our inheritance. We become prodigal children, coming back to God, our heavenly Father, and God’s infinite mercy forgives those who return to Him without any payment or sacrifice required.

Jesus taught that loving our enemies is more powerful and a higher calling than simply loving those who love us back.

While striking someone who strikes you on the cheek seems reasonable, Jesus says we shouldn't fight back. And for those who compel us to walk one mile, we should offer to walk with them two miles. Is all this contrary to our logical understanding? Perhaps. But to destroy evil with good is the Godly way.

Jesus teaches us that we must deny ourselves, even though self-preservation is an instinct that kicks in naturally. But denying ourselves, and serving others completely, restores and refreshes the soul, and is at the core of who we should be as human beings.

Is all this impossible? Is it beyond our human abilities? No. Not with the help of God's Spirit giving us additional wisdom and feeding our souls with goodness and guiding us towards God's Will, along with the perfect example of Jesus always before our eyes.

To do as he has done, we must simply believe that Jesus left us an example that we can really follow.

If Jesus said we can love as he loved, and serve as he served, either he meant it, or he didn't. If he DID mean it, and we wish to call ourselves his followers and friends, then we must believe we can do as he did.

Otherwise, if we do not believe it, we must believe he either lied or was giving his disciples tasks they could not perform. We would have to believe he gave them false hope and goals higher than they, or any human, could ever meet.

But if that's true, then Jesus can no longer be our Master, our teacher or God's spokesman, and we would have to view him as a false prophet, and a liar, and a fraud.

Yet, our faith and the simple teachings of Jesus put all this speculation and doubt to rest. To doubt we can achieve high goals is perfectly natural. Doubt means we are thinking. But perpetual doubt means we've stopped thinking and are just rejecting.

That Jesus challenged us with incredibly high goals is undeniable. That he believed we could achieve them is proven by his words. And because Jesus, a human being like us, has done this, we are assured that we, too, may accomplish God’s will for our lives.

Going forward, let's stop doubting Jesus and our ability to follow him. Let's instead believe the simple teachings of Jesus - the teachings that, through obedience and faith, save us from sin and bring us into fellowship with God.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Jesus: a "Mere" Man Like No Other

The Jesus Followers, without reservation or apology, acknowledge Jesus is a man, fully human, just like us.

But Jesus isn't a "mere" man - as if being human was a sin or deficiency in and of itself. No, this Jesus is special and unique in the world, as are his teachings.

At his baptism, Jesus was specially anointed - chosen - by God as His unique spokesman/prophet. "You are my son," he said. "This day, I have given birth to you."

He was sent out to preach, but not to the well-off, the comfortable, the ruling elites, and those who were spiritually healthy. No, he was sent to the poor, the distressed, the dregs of society, and to those who were spiritually ill and yearning for completeness.

The Teachings of Jesus themselves are unique, not just "good advice" or "interesting sayings" to be considered lightly. While some built on the teachings of others - the Hebrew prophets of old, and the teachers of some other schools of Judaism - many were shocking, and all were challenging.

He called people to give up everything to follow these teachings. Mere teachers don't do this. This Teacher, sent from God does.

He said we must turn the other cheek when confronted by evil, rather than retaliate in kind.

We should walk two miles when asked to walk one - doing more than required, even when being forced by others.

Rather than indulge in focusing on our selves, he called on us to completely deny ourselves, to the point of taking up a cross, a tool of death.

When most religious leaders prayed long prayers to be seen by others, he said we should go into our closet and pray secretly.

He said we must do these things even at the risk of being hated by everyone, or even being killed for our actions.

Instead of serving ourselves, we must, said Jesus, serve others completely and with compassion. This includes the poor, the sick, the hungry, those without adequate clothing or housing, and those who need spiritual comfort.

Love and pray for your enemies, he said, to the amazement of all.

And perhaps the most shocking of all - he called on people to seek nothing less than to be as holy, perfect and merciful as God Himself.

No other man had said these things, and he spoke them with an authority that amazed, confused and then angered those Religious Elites who controlled the thinking of the people in his day.

They denied we could please God by our actions. They said people were too weak to obey God, and instead should pray long prayers and rely on rituals. They said outward appearances and good intentions were enough for God, ignoring all of the teachings of their own Scriptures and of their prophets.

Jesus sought to shake things up, to reform the fundamental orthodoxy of his day. And just as in his time, many of the established elites today don't like his teachings very much, either.

But his teachings undeniably call us to Good Works and Righteousness. We cannot hide our Good Works, they must be an example just as the Teacher that inspires them. We must be the light of the world, just as Jesus showed God's light to the world.

We cannot hide behind our alleged human frailty, we cannot blame others or our supposed genetic inability, and we cannot make Jesus into a one-of-a-kind aberration among humanity - a Superhero or Demigod who cannot be followed, but only admired and worshiped from afar. Instead, we must take up the challenges Jesus lays down for us and accept them as achievable.

Jesus calls us to action, not merely contemplation. He calls us to BE an active people, not a mere collection of church-goers, believing in comfortable doctrines and mouthing mindless prayers the "orthodox" approves for us.

We "mere" human beings are called by Jesus to achieve all that God desires us to become. God's servant Jesus calls us to do, to act, and to serve. Let us take up the challenge.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Jesus Assures Us: An Imperfect World Can be Made Complete

The world is imperfect. But it is imperfect not because it has fallen and cannot get up. It is imperfect because it does not know it can stand up, reach higher, and achieve Godliness.

Introducing everyone to Jesus is the key to giving the world the knowledge of all it is capable.

So: Meet Jesus.

Jesus is the anointed Spokesman for God - the one whom God chose at baptism to go out into the world preaching a Good and Beneficial Message to humanity, especially the poor, the hurting, the persecuted and those without hope.

That message, that Gospel, is why God chose, anointed and sent him. For no other reason did Jesus preach, live, and die.

(Don’t recognize this Jesus, or this message? Don’t worry. Most don’t. But read on.)

This human being, Jesus, teaches and demonstrates with his life and death, that we "mere humans" can do ALL that God asks of us:

We may forgive, just as God forgives
We may be merciful, as God is merciful
We may be complete and perfect, just as God is complete and perfect
We may love, just as God loves
We may give comfort to others, just as God gives comfort to us

But without knowing the teacher, and without hearing his lessons, students don't know they can learn - and don't even know they ARE students.

And the amazing lessons of Jesus teach us that we may give others infinite love, mercy and forgiveness, just as God gives infinite love, mercy and forgiveness.

There are those who will deny this, saying that it's too hard for "mere" humans to accomplish; that we are so fallen and lying so flat on our faces on the ground that we cannot pick ourselves up again; and that Jesus was simply holding us to an impossible standard to make us feel weak and powerless.

But God has not created powerless beings. God has implanted within all of us the seeds of greatness, and also goodness. However bad the path we have taken ourselves down, in whatever troubling situations we find ourselves, God has given everyone the ability to repent and come back to Him.

And God has not left us alone.

God has given us an example - his chosen Son, Jesus - to demonstrate that even the most persecuted, hated and despised human being can achieve the Godly Righteousness that God wishes for all of us.

And finally, God gives us ongoing Grace, Wisdom, Knowledge, Encouragement, and Moral strength - all achieved through communion with God directly through prayer.

With all of these gifts, we may come back to (or first discover) the knowledge of God. Then we may obey Him, love Him, serve Him, and then show the same unbounded love to all our fellow human beings.

This message, this Gospel, is even today an explosive secret to many millions of people. Even those who claim to bear his name have no idea of the powerful nature of God's gifts contained in the Religion Jesus preached.

Religion is not about mindless rituals; It's not about worship that entertains us but forgets God is its Object; It's not about believing doctrines that excuse our failure to obey God; It's not about making Jesus an idol to be admired, and worshiped, but not followed; It's not about reciting a few words designed to force God to grant us eternal life without our obedience; And it's not about feeling good about ourselves, enriching ourselves, or serving our selves to the exclusion of others.

Pure and Godly religion is about serving others, denying ourselves, loving and serving God with all that we have, and taking action NOW rather than waiting for God to send a sign or save us from the burden of living in an imperfect world.

Jesus calls us to act now, to perform Righteous Good Works in humility, to begin the work God has called us to do, and become the people God wishes us to be.

Let us therefore get to work doing God's Will, even in this imperfect world!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The "Lighthouse" of Jesus Must Shine Through Us

In contemporary Christian art and culture, Jesus is often portrayed as a lighthouse - one that guides the way for us, and one that can be our beacon of hope when we're lost and weary.

And that's a great analogy, because it’s true. Jesus is indeed the Light of the World (John 8:12) and beckons us with the light of his life, ministry, teachings and death. These aspects of Jesus shine upon all who have encountered him in the past twenty centuries.

But to take this analogy too far would be to assume we need only gaze lovingly at the light, but not follow it to where it points us, threatening to obscure what Jesus actually said about the light which he was giving off, how we are meant to perceive it, and what we are meant to do with it after we perceive it.

Jesus not only calls on us to HEAR about his light, but also calls on us to drink in the light of his teachings, and challenges us to radiate OUR light in order to be a LIGHT for OTHERS in this world. Because, while Jesus is the light of the world, we, also, are called to be the light of the world (Matt. 5:14) And if we claim that we have fellowship with him, but continue to walk in darkness, we're lying to ourselves (1 John 1:6.)

This world of ours, while a wondrous gift of God and filled with Goodness and great gifts, is also filled with darkness, despair and suffering. It can seem a very dark place, obscured by self-seeking, self-centeredness, petty wealth-seeking, and self-importance that all lead to destructive behavior. When we make serving our Self more important than serving others, we turn our backs on the Light that is contained in Jesus' teachings, which teach us the opposite lessons.

The light of a lighthouse is meant to warn ships of impending doom, and guide them in a more narrow and clearer path towards safety.

But simply gazing at the lighthouse, admiring the light without understanding the purpose of the light, then refusing to act upon its warning is pointless.

We must not forget that the light of Jesus is meant to shine THROUGH US to enlighten the entire world.

At his baptism, God anointed this man, Jesus, as His special spokesman, and as he said in the synagogue in the Gospel of Luke, God anointed Jesus to "preach the gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:18) and to open eyes and heal sickness.

The light of Jesus' teachings calls upon us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, and care for the sick. We are to open people's eyes to the sickness of sin and reckless rebellion against God's Moral Laws, and heal them of this sin, leading them into the Light of God's Truth, as exemplified by Jesus' life and teachings.

The light is meant to AWAKEN WITHIN US the spirit of God that anointed Jesus, and send us out into the world to BE the light and to do Good in imitation of Jesus’ example (John 13:15.)

"You are the light of the world," he says. "A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."  (Matt. 5:14-16.)

Let us see the Light, and act upon it, so that others may come to know it as we do.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Our Humanity Is Not an Excuse for Our Sins

How many times have we heard, after someone makes a mistake, or acts sinfully, “Well, he was ONLY HUMAN, after all”? Perhaps many times. But do we ever wonder why this is used as an excuse for the sinful action? Is there something IN US that MAKES us sin against our will?

There are a lot of clever excuses we can use to avoid doing what's right – or even actively doing what is wrong. We can say others around us “forced” us to do these things – and peer pressure can indeed be a strong factor. We can say we couldn't avoid doing them – and if we put ourselves in situations in which sin is happening a lot, that can certainly influence us. And we can also say that we were born so flawed that we CANNOT do anything BUT sin and rebel against God – that we are “only human.” This last excuse is perhaps the greatest lie to ever infect Christendom - and the vast majority of Christians today believe it.

If it’s true, just BEING among those pressuring us means that we will cave in to sin every time. But that’s not true. We CAN resist, and Jesus and the Bible teaches us that we can, and must, do so.

It's important to know exactly what "sin" is. John said he wrote so that people "will not sin" (1 John 2:1.) That's not to say that we are going to immediately stop all sinning once we are exposed to the teachings of Jesus, but early Christians clearly expected new converts to make all effort to put behind them the sins they previously did. This was true of stealing, lusting, cheating others, lying, and more.

If what's being called "sin" is inherited from our birth, it cannot be called "sin", which is an act, not a thing. If it is a compulsion from birth, we cannot be guilty for being compelled unavoidably. But if sin is a choice, and we can avoid it, we must. Turns out, God told Adam's son that sin is a choice. (Gen. 4:7-8) That he chose falsely means he earned punishment. Only an individual’s ACTS of sin are punishable, and we are not liable for the sins of anyone else (Ezek. 18:19-24.) If we are sinful by nature, and yet we sin, we are NOT guilty, according to God.

In the Genesis story, Adam's very own son had the ability to not sin. Sin, therefore, cannot be inherited and passed down through either a man's "seed" or a woman's womb to us.

We must trust God when He told Cain - and us - that we NEED NOT SIN, and instead, must work to not sin any longer, instead asking God's forgiveness, which is granted freely upon repenting of our past behavior. We are assured that God has given all people the ability to stop sinning (Deut. 30:11-14; 19) and that we have Jesus as our example that a human being need not sin, and in fact can obey God. Jesus’ example is a model upon which we can shape our actions.

We must trust Jesus when he said we must seek Godliness and that we could become Godly and complete – not by ourselves without God or without God’s chosen example, but with God's ongoing help and with the example of Jesus always before us.

We are called to commit our lives to obedience to God's chosen 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 that God knows we are capable of achieving.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Teachings of Jesus Call us to ACTION!

Only those who gain knowledge of the teachings of Jesus and follow him in humility can truly become whole, perfect and complete in Godliness.
Jesus was the perfect example through which we can know and see how God wishes us to act, live, to relate to others and to die.
It is in this context that we can begin to understand the otherwise "difficult" saying of Jesus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6.) The rarely-quoted next verse reads: "If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him."
Seeing and learning without acting upon what we've seen and learned is pointless, and useless, leading to dead faith (James 2:20; 26.) We cannot hide our Light, or keep our Good Works to our selves, but instead, Jesus calls us to spread goodness and light to others (Matt. 5:16.) It is only by action that we spread God's Kingdom upon the face of the earth.
Jesus challenges us to be better than we are, not remain exactly as we were before we met him. The act of following him is meant to transform us; we are to be BORN AGAIN in service and obedience to God, with the example of God's chosen exemplar always before our eyes (John 3:3.)
Jesus didn't ever claim to be God. But he did claim to be Godly, and he was in fact perfectly in tune with God's will. He says of his Father, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:29.)
From his example, we need not look through a "dark glass" seeking vainly for what God wills for our lives. Jesus lays it out clearly, and says we CAN achieve it, and must attempt to do so. And we need not do it alone. God's servant Jesus teaches that we can rely on God's forgiveness when we falter on this journey, and must as a consequence forgive others who may offend us - in Godly imitation of both God and God's servant, Jesus (Matt. 6:14-15.)
The Good and Beneficial Message proclaimed by Jesus wasn't to simply have mere belief in his existence, but was a call to ACTIVELY serve God, to follow Jesus, and to love others just as we love ourselves (Mark 12:29-31.) His Gospel calls us to serve and act, not sit and contemplate, nor to simply admire Jesus nor even to worship him.
To be Good and Beneficial, the message of Jesus must spread goodness to others, and be beneficial to others. To turn a deaf ear to God's instruction through Jesus is detestable to God (John 9:31; Prov. 28:9.)
When we realize the wonderful gifts God has given all people from birth - but we have not used to benefit others until we knew Jesus - we should feel a great sorrow of realization, followed immediately by great joy that we now know the goal for which we were born, and the Good Works for which God has equipped us!
Jesus is a "Door" and a "Gate" by which we may walk through and glimpse the potential life for which God has equipped us - and has promised to continue to equip us. Let us have the courage to walk through this narrow passageway and enter into spiritually complete and morally useful lives together!