Sunday, July 27, 2014

Making OTHERS The Focus of Our Faith

What should the focus of our faith be? The teachings of Jesus makes it extremely clear. Though, as usual, modern Christendom has nearly completely forgotten this, because it is not at all focused on his teachings.

Jesus calls us to deny ourselves take up our cross and follow him. (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23.) We are to be “other-centered,” not focused on Self.

Jesus calls us to self-denial, to serve others beyond even their demands. "If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles (Matt. 5:41.)

Jesus calls on us to live a life of self-denial, not to make ourselves fat, comfortable, wealthy and detached from the cares of Others. We must, if we love Jesus, serve these Others first, and do so with a perfect self-sacrifice, as modeled by none other than Jesus himself (Matt. 20:28; John 13:15.)

And yet, with a perverse sense of self-entitlement, some make God into their own Servant, rather than making God the object of our service and love. We are called to fully serve God and fully serve our fellow human beings. But Christendom - the modern bearer of the Christ's name - often finds a way to make our lives all about ourselves.

If your "Church" is telling you that you are ENTITLED to material success, then your church is speaking against Jesus.

Jesus calls us to serve and lose ourselves in that service. The early disciples of Jesus left ALL - friends, family, material goods, homes, jobs - to follow Jesus (Luke 18:28.)

Jesus assures us that storing up "goods" in Heaven is far greater than storing up material goods - which rust and fall apart (Matt. 6:20.)

If your "Church" is telling you that you CANNOT be Righteous, and that Jesus did all the "work" of "being righteous" FOR YOU 2,000 years ago, your "church" is lying, and the entire message of Jesus testifies against this horrible doctrine.

It is the one who does Righteousness, not the one who merely says they "have it", that actually is righteous (Matt. 5:20; Isaiah 33:15.) Jesus said we must stop sinning and serving the Self, that we must turn instead to God, and begin seeking (and doing) Righteousness, serving God and obeying God’s commands.

If your "Church" tells you that the cut-throat approach to business and life is the right one, and you should emulate it, RUN from that "Church" Because selfish ambition and jealousy lead to disorder and corruption (James 3:16.)

And if your "Church" lashes out at the ideas of Knowledge, Wisdom, and following the Teachings of Jesus and instead says it's okay to be selfish, this is a place isolated from God's Will (Prov. 18:1.) Again: RUN AWAY. Fast.

What does all this mean for us in our daily lives?

We're called by Jesus to love our neighbor just as we would love ourselves (Mark 12:31) to even love our enemies with just as much strength (Matt. 5:44.) This often, almost always, means putting OTHERS ahead of ourselves. Serving others often means putting our desires on hold, and serving, rather than to be served (Mark 10:45.)

Is this HARD? Yes, it can be hard to put others above yourself. But we were never promised a wide gate (Matt. 7:13) easy religion when we promised we would follow the teachings, life and example of Jesus.

James, the brother of Jesus, puts it like this: "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 1:27.)

Jesus is our perfect example (by his Righteous acts) of God's Will for our lives. We must seek to follow Jesus in all things, meekly and humbly seeking God and God's Kingdom first (Matt. 6:33) above our own needs and desires, and relying on God's forgiveness when we fall short, forgiving others as we expect to be forgiven by God.

So, let us turn our hearts to God's way, and not to selfish gain (Psalm 119:36)! Let's show by our Lights (Matt. 5:14) and our Deeds (James 2:18) what kind of Faith we have in God's anointed Spokesman, Jesus!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Can We Resist Temptation?

Temptation is a fact of life. Throughout our day we are tempted. To eat what we shouldn't. To say what we shouldn't. To indulge our physical desires in innumerable ways. And to overstep bounds we know exist.

Can temptation be avoided? In a word, no. Temptation is all around us, and for those who believe God sets limits on our behavior, and who have accepted those limits for ourselves, we are very aware that all that is outside those limits lies in the realm of "temptation." In many cases these temptations are in the category of "sin" because God does not wish us to engage in these behaviors. Among them are adultery, theft, lust, coveting and lying.

But while temptation is all around us, we can indeed RESIST temptation, if we keep our hearts focused upon God, the One Who fashioned our spirits and Who knows us best.

Some will be quick to deny that we can actually do this, citing favored sayings that imply that the "flesh is weak" (which is indeed true, in a sense) but that because of this, they claim, we are utterly UNABLE to resist temptation.

These same people might point to the cause of this "weakness" a "fall of man" in the infancy of our human race, which CAUSES our "human nature" to be totally unable to resist temptation, and the sin that often (inevitably, they say) WILL result from it.

And yet, the Scriptures do not back up these negative assertions, nor does it, or God, give us excuses to fall into temptation and to sin.

While Adam and Eve are shown as "falling" out of the Garden, this apparently didn't affect their son, Cain, from having the ability to resist sin (or, as he ultimately did, to freely choose to indulge in it) because God Himself is recorded as saying to him, "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but YOU MUST RULE OVER IT" (Gen. 4:7.)

David writes in the Psalms, "I will guard my ways so that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle as long as the wicked are in my presence" (Psalm 39:1.)

And again, "How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands." (Psalm 119:9-10.)

And the Proverbs also speak to this, saying "Those who guard their lips preserve their lives." (Prov. 13:3.)

God does not give us any excuse or permission to sin. But how do we KNOW that we can do what God has required of us?

Because Jesus - the man whom God has ultimately chosen and anointed as His spokesman and our example - lived in perfect obedience, doing in all things that for which he was sent by his Father, and showed by his example that all are able to obey God.

He was tempted in all things just as we are. He was even tempted to avoid going to his death (Matt 26:39) - the supreme moral example of self-sacrifice and obedience to his message. But instead, he obeyed God and remained true to the Gospel message.

Jesus says, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation" (Luke 22:40) and that while he says "the flesh is weak" (Matt. 26:41) this is the same one who said "If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love" (John 15:10) and "You must be perfect just as your Father in Heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48.)

The language of defeat and inevitable sin is never found on Jesus' lips, nor must it be found in our hearts.

To be tempted isn't the same thing as sinning. But to give in to temptation is. And we can resist giving in to temptation.

James writes (echoing Genesis) that if we resist evil, it will flee from us, and "Blessed is the man that endures temptation, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12-14) And he says we CAN control our tongues, and must, if we claim to be religious (1:26.)

If we believe that Jesus did not give in to temptation, and told us to follow his example in all things, and if we believe that God spoke through scripture, telling us that we CAN resist temptation, then we must believe that we can resist temptation. And when we fail to live up to that high standard, know that we may seek God's forgiveness as we progress towards to life He wishes us to lead.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Success on God's Terms, Not Ours

God wants us to succeed. But what we call "success" isn't exactly what God thinks of as succeeding.

We learn what God wishes us to be as human beings from the life, teachings and example of Jesus, whom He chose to be our Moral Standard.

Many who do not recognize Jesus as our Teacher and Moral Standard - and many who claim they do - believe God is in the business of showering us with material goods, that he is secretly manipulating the universe to make us wealthier, healthier and have better job and dating prospects, often by throwing roadblocks in front of others.

But God isn't a master manipulator, a "Mob Boss" who "fixes" our lives for those who say the right magic words in His name.

Jesus and the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures tell us it rains on both the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt. 5:45) and that God has no favorites upon which he grants "wishes," nor can He be bribed or cajoled as if he was a genie - or one of the pagan deities (Deut. 10:17.) God simply doesn't work that way.

In truth, Godly success means that we follow God's Moral Laws, and that our lives conform to Him, not to the material things and pleasures we believe we want, desire or covet.

Jesus tells us specifically that we must not focus on the acquisition of material goods.

“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." (Matt 6:19-21)

Jesus says clearly that salvation will not come from becoming extremely rich (Mark 10:23.) How different this is from today's Christian pastors, many of whom teach their flocks that "God wants you to be rich."

What Jesus preached was consistent with the Wisdom of hte 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.)

Sirach the preacher says whoever pursues money will be led astray by it, and wisely notes that obsessing over acquiring wealth "wastes away the flesh" and drives away sleep." (Sirach 31.)

Jesus and the Hebrew Bible instead both call us to be rich in Righteousness, even if we are poor in our finances. They both preach 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.

So, the question may arise: Can we be "successful" if God isn't manipulating the Universe for our personal gain and benefit? Yes, we can. But success must not be defined by our earthly conquests or our purely selfish desires.

God's Will for us is that we conform ourselves according to Godly Righteousness, relying on God's grace and help to grow closer to that ideal every day as we confront whatever happens to us. In that way, as Jesus' brother James says, our tested faith makes us spiritually perfect (James 1:2-3.)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Our Promises TO God

In the ancient world, there was a religion in which people could claim favor from God. A new boat? Pray for one! Perfect health? Pray for it! A better job? Heaven will reward you! A perfect spouse? Favor from God will send one your way! In fact, fate could be manipulated to bring great 'Favor" to you, as long as you simply have faith and pray the right way.

Unfortunately, this faith was paganism. The old Roman, Greek and other pagan deities were supposedly in the business of granting favors if we had "right belief" and all their worshipers had to do was to believe and pray, and they'd force the appropriate 'god' to grant them their wishes and desires.

Flash forward today, and the bookshelves are bursting with 'Christian' books outlining the promises God is required to give us if we do one thing: give Him our belief. If we believe "on" God (and his Son, Jesus Christ) so this line of thinking goes, God is REQUIRED to give us "favor" and grant our wishes and our basest desires.

Using extremely selective proof-texting, the Hebrew scriptures, the words of Jesus and the "New Testament" are ripped out of context, and with a sense of self-entitlement, 'Christians' make God into their Servant, rather than the other way around.

But that's not what Jesus says - and one would think that Jesus, the one whom God sent as His spokesman and Prophet - is supposedly the one to whom these 'Christians' should be listening to gain knowledge of eternal life and a morally abundant life here on earth.

In fact, a fair reading of Scripture shows just the opposite: That it is US that owes God, and once we repent of our sinful actions and pledge to walk according to God's path of Righteousness - becoming daily the Light of the World - our promises are ever MORE important, because we have become fully aware of what we owe to God and to our fellow human beings.

The one who DOES the will of God, our Father, is the one who is saved (Matt. 7:21; 12:50.) Not the one who merely spouts the name of Jesus, not the one who believes they are "entitled" to salvation from the first minute they pledge to be a 'Christian.'

It is the one who does Righteousness, not the one who merely says they have it, that actually is righteous (Matt. 5:20; Isaiah 33:15.)

And it is the one who seeks to do what is Righteous in the eyes of God that will be Saved, not the one who disobeys God and serves their own desires instead.

Our “favor” from God is His endless love and mercy, and also His holy justice – and we receive our just reward for our own actions, not our mere words or the supposed imputed deeds of others (Deut. 24:16.)

Jesus calls on us to deny ourselves (Mark 8:34) not make ourselves comfortable, wealthy and detached from the cares of others. We must, if we love Jesus, serve others first, and do so with a perfect self-sacrifice, as modeled by none other than Jesus himself (Matt. 20:28; John 13:15.)

When we promise to serve God through His Son Jesus, we forfeit the right to demand "favor" from God. God, however, has every right to expect us to follow the one whom He sent, Jesus, whose life is the example by which we are saved, if we strive to follow it.

Our promises TO God, therefore, are far more relevant to our faith than what God has promised to us, and we must avoid impiously holding GOD to His word, while we fail to live up to our own.