Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Gifts of God

God offers us an inexhaustible supply of love, wisdom, mercy and forgiveness, all for a prayer.

James, the brother of Jesus urges us to ask God if we lack wisdom, because God "gives generously to all without finding fault" (James 1:5) and also assures us that "the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere."

God challenges us to be better than we were yesterday, and God chose the man named Jesus from among us and sent him to proclaim these truths and to demonstrate that humans are capable of reaching God's high standards of love and obedience to God's will.

In the Gospel of Luke, we learn that this man, Jesus, "increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man." God also increases our wisdom, and from Him comes knowledge and understanding (Prov. 2:6.)

Like any human being, Jesus began life as a clean slate - open to good and bad influences. But we see from his connection with God that he consistently chose the Good over the evil, and thus became an example for all of us all, that we, too, may do what he achieved (John 13:15; 1 John 2:6.)

From the life, teachings and example of this man, Jesus, we can gain assurance that we may all achieve what God requires from us: greater wisdom, greater Godliness, greater peace with our Creator, greater service and love to our neighbors and a fuller, more virtuous life.

Jesus assures us that we can achieve the Righteousness God requires of us.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" he says (Luke 6:36.) He calls us to "be perfect, just as your father in Heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48.) These are not impossible tasks, since he tells us God will be with us.

Wisdom, understanding, knowledge of God's Righteousness, love, and the doing of good deeds that please Him - knowledge of all these come from God, and are made known through the example and life of Jesus, God's Chosen one.

God's gifts are the things that endure forever (Matt. 6:19-21.) These are the things that both enrich our lives and please God. When we devote time to studying God's will for our lives and thinking about them, God will give us the insight and wisdom we have been seeking (Sir. 6:37.)

Let us, therefore, praise God for all His blessings, and recommit to walking according to His will!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

If the "Work of Jesus" is "Finished," Then He Failed on the Cross! #JesusFollowers

For millions of Christians, the sole purpose of the life of Jesus is for him to have died as a bloody sacrifice on the cross. It is this "finished work" of Jesus many ministers are praising this Easter Sunday.

Yet, the very blood that he shed on that cross was the same blood that coursed through his veins and pumped through his heart during his life, when he called us to obey God in spirit and in truth, and to, “be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect,” (John 4:24; Matt. 5:48.)

This “Jesus” of theirs makes no real demands upon us and calls us to do no Good Works. Their “Jesus” speaks few words Christian pastors deem worthy of repeating, and his teachings are mocked as unattainable by mere humans.

That version of Jesus is not the one we find in the Gospels. Instead, the true Jesus – chosen and anointed by God to be His spokesman – showed us how to suffer and die, and also how to love and obey.

The true Jesus calls us to repent of our sins and turn to God, which did not require a sacrifice of blood. He taught, like the Hebrew Prophets before him, that we could find forgiveness in God's merciful and all-loving arms (Psalm 86:5; Matt 6:14-15; Psalm 40:6; Hosea 6:6.)

This true Jesus also taught that we are capable of following his moral example. “He who DOES the will of my Father,” shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, he said. “Everyone who hears my words and DOES them, shall be like a wise man.” Jesus assures us we can achieve what he achieved (Matt. 7:21; 24; John 14:12.)

This amazing message was not received well even in Jesus’ time, either.

Jesus said that Jerusalem always killed the prophets, and that he foresaw that this, too, would happen to him, since he was also a prophet of God who challenged the religious leaders of his day and their practices (Mark 6:4; Luke 13:33.)

Jesus said that to die for one's friends was the greatest love, and if his followers obeyed him, they were his friends. He died, therefore, as an example for his sheep, those who followed and obeyed him (John 15:13; John 10:11.)

If we aren't seeking to live as Jesus lived - and honoring the words of teaching that he gave the world during his life - then we may simply ignore his death on the cross. It becomes meaningless to us, because then we aren't even the friends of Jesus, let alone part of his flock.

The death of Jesus was a continuation of his life – his message of extreme self-sacrifice and love for others.

Jesus' death was the ultimate fulfillment of his ministry of love, compassion and self-sacrifice. When Jesus says "It is finished," on the cross (John 19:30) it cannot mean that our requirement to do Good Works is finished, or that our need to go to God to seek forgiveness is finished, or that our duties to serve others is finished. It cannot ever mean any of those things, or Jesus' ministry was in vain.

The "work" of Jesus on the cross and during his life is never finished, as long as his friends and disciples serve God in his name and according to his worthy example.

By the example of the ministry, life and death of Jesus, we are saved from our sins. But if we fail to act upon those lessons, we slide back into our sinful behaviors, and have made Jesus' life, teachings and death meaningless.

Let Jesus be resurrected in our actions, and in our continued obedience to his loving words and teachings!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Seeking the Wrong Messiah in Jesus

As Jesus entered Jerusalem on that last week of his life, his disciples were joined by the many who had heard and seen him preach in Galilee and those who heard about his fame far beyond that region. And they rushed to welcome him.

Surely they had heard of his teachings and his works, and believed him to be the Messiah. And so he was. Today, we understand his Messiahship clearly when he said he was sent by God, Whom he called The Father, to rescue us from our sins and call us to repent and turn back to God.

He proclaimed God’s Kingdom, and said it was both within us and among the people in the form of himself. And he called disciples to follow him in creating this Kingdom and spreading it throughout first Judea and then the earth.

But that wasn't what many had in mind that day as they welcomed him and proclaimed him “King.” They sought a military leader, someone who would lead a military revolt and overthrow the Romans, re-establishing a literal kingdom of Israel, and bringing justice by the sword, not by words of peace.

And within days, almost all of them would be going home disappointed – saddened that THIS Messiah would not be leading a military revolt. They had somehow drastically misread the clear words of Jesus, and their failure to listen would have grave consequences for them and their nation.

Jesus was always very clear about his mission. He was clear that this Kingdom was to be brought into this earthly reality by our deeds and actions by following God’s Moral Commandments, and that we would all be judged by those deeds to be deemed worthy to enter in to Eternal Life.

His kingdom was “not of this world” and that which belonged to Caesar should be given to Caesar. Every opportunity he was given to sow sedition against Rome, he instead spoke of peace and individual repentance from individual sinful behavior. That’s not the preaching of a revolutionary, conquering Messiah.

Perhaps that’s why the Gospels portray even the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate – who was otherwise known by historians as a brutal, ruthless ruler – as finding no sedition in him at all. Jesus is said to have answered Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, so I would not be delivered over to the Jewish leaders. But my kingdom is not from the world.” This was a huge disappointment to those who sought a military revolt.

His entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, rather than on the massive white horse of a general, was also subtle hint about his true mission.

The key to understanding Jesus’ true mission (one of inaugurating a Heavenly Kingdom, not a military revolt) is that the religious leaders of the day hated him. They saw his teachings as a threat, and made numerous accusations against him, all of them false.

They accused him of trying to end God’s Law (but he said he was upholding every line of it) and of trying to destroy the Sabbath observance (but he said he was upholding the true spirit of the Sabbath) and even trying to make himself equal with God (something he denied over and over again.)

And the day after his triumphal entry, he did something else that was unexpected: he entered the Temple, and there he loudly condemned those who were using it as a money-making venture, rather than a place of pure worship.

Today, Christendom – those who supposedly revere him and his teachings – continue to misunderstand him. They, like his contemporaries, believe him to be a conquering king who’s going to come back and smite all of his enemies – secular “Romans” – in a bloodbath.

Many arrogantly call themselves “children of the King” and believe that entitles them to riches in this earth, while Jesus taught we should never trust in riches, but instead store up riches in heaven by doing Good Works in this life (which today’s Christendom also condemns.)

Most are quick to worship and admire him, and make his death and return to God into a magical charm that absolves them of the hard work of living in Righteousness as Jesus commanded us to do, rather than obeying his words and honoring his teachings.

And many make God’s house into a money-making venture, rather than a pure house of worship.

So as we greet Jesus as he enters Jerusalem, let’s renounce those misunderstandings and look back to Jesus and his actual teachings. Let’s stop looking for a conquering General who will make our lives easier by simply killing our enemies and giving us all of Rome’s riches so we can live easily and in physical comfort in this life.

Let’s instead remember that we are greeting God’s chosen Prophet – the one who brings us a Good and Beneficial Message (“Gospel”) that tells us if we turn from our sins, we may live with God eternally, and live the Righteous life God wants us to live here on earth.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Worthlessly Praising Jesus

In many Christian churches this Sunday, as most Sundays, people will sing and speak praises to God and to Jesus, the one Whom God sent. And most will do so with their hands raised up towards the sky.

Of course, God is not literally "up in the sky" and while numerous other theological problems exist in these churches, there's something else fundamentally wrong with simply raising one's hands, as its practiced there.

Most will praise Jesus, and will praise God, but will do little else. And that's a problem, if you believe what Jesus said.

Most will praise Jesus, forgetting that this same Jesus said, "My words will not pass away."

Most say “Lord, Lord!” but forget that this means “Master, Master!” and we must obey our Master’s teachings.

Most will raise their hands and praise Jesus with great emotion, but when the emotion fades, so will their fervor.

The problem with merely praising God and praising Jesus is that Jesus' words call for us to act on behalf of God - act constantly, consistently and until it HURTS (but HEALS) us.

The bottom line? If we raise our hands in PRAISE OF JESUS while in Church, we must then become the very HANDS OF JESUS when we leave the Church building.

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

A weak faith built on arrogant self-assurance of our ultimate reward by God can only lead to a worthless, works-free faith that fails to recognize that we will be judged based upon our works.

Simply praising Jesus with our eyes closed in ecstasy, hands waving with thousands of others, is insufficient – as insufficient as claiming to be "saved" for all eternity while in a similar ecstatic state, but keeping our eyes closed to others' needs when we leave the Church building.

Jesus was chosen by God as a spokesman but also as an example for us to follow completely. If we fail to follow his words we cannot claim to be his disciples.

Our eyes cannot be closed nor can our hands be clenched shut when we approach God. Jesus did all he could to open our eyes and stretch out our hands when he was ministering among us.

He preached (and demonstrated) kindness, and a deep love for God and for other people. He preached peace in the face of violence. He preached an absolute service to others. He preached a challenging faith that makes us look outside of ourselves and our own self-interest to make others' lives better.

Surely, we must raise our hands in praise of God our Creator to thank Him for the gifts He granted us at birth. These gifts include the ability to obey Him and the example in Jesus by whom He shows us we may follow to know His will.

But God does not seek vain words or empty praise.

Let us instead use those hands for more than mere praise, but to bring God's Kingdom to fruition in THIS life for our fellow human beings.