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!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

What Does Jesus Say About Prayer? #JesusFollowers

We all have our own ideas about what it means to pray to God, and how to do it. And there are some rather strongly held and deeply ingrained beliefs and traditions about what prayer IS, and what's it's FOR.

But as followers of Jesus, we should be looking towards him and his words for guidance, and when we do, we might be surprised what he has to say.

"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Note: the Greek word here for “reward” means “wages.”)

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:5-12)

Jesus clearly spells out a few things we must bear in mind when praying:

1. We should not be praying in public – in church gatherings or street corners –  in order to be seen as pious (It's motive Jesus was concerned about.)
2. We should really be praying in secret. The words for “room” (elsewhere “closet”) means a secret storeroom where people of his time would go to be in private. Where better to seek the infinite storeroom of God’s spiritual strength!
3. We must not heap up many empty phrases because we think God hears us better when we use a lot of words.
4. God knows what we need before we ask.
5. Jesus gives us a simple prayer by which we can express our gratitude to God and our acknowledgement of Him.
6. We may ask for what we need, but that isn't necessarily what we WANT.

Many Christians want God to be our magic genie, our butler and our door-opening doorman, but He cannot be any of these. And even as Jesus consistently preached that we should desire spiritual things and not Earthly treasures (Matt. 6:19-20; Luke 12:33) many Christians pray to God for new cars, more money, a promotion and for an end to sickness and pain. That’s witchcraft, not faith in God.

We should be seeking God’s help to overcome adversity, endure suffering, avoid temptation, and grow stronger from all that the world sends our way, and speak to God about all things and all of our troubles and concerns.

But asking for cold hard cash (or a new car, or a raise, or a companion of the opposite sex) from the Creator of the Universe is 180 degrees from what Jesus taught us to do.

He also said God already knows what we need, so we should not raise up endless words to God, as the pagans do. That seems to be good "advice" from our Master, Jesus, doesn't it?

So, bearing in mind that Jesus repeatedly tells us to seek spiritual things, and not material things, and that the poor will be, and are, blessed, and that the rich will find it extremely difficult to inherit eternal life with God, why would we spend time praying for riches?

Why, indeed, would we pray for ourselves, our own material needs, or our own self-gratification, when Jesus says God doesn't favor any of us in particular?

Why would we send up words of petition to God demanding material goods, when we know that is not what God sends?

Why pray for special, material, favors, when we know God shows no partiality and cannot be bribed with our words (Deut. 10:17) and that it rains both on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45)?

Why pray that Nature obey our whims, when we know that God isn’t in the storms or natural disasters (1 King 19:11-12) but in the caring and loving response to them when we are damaged by them?

Why send up many, many vain and repetitious prayers when Jesus tells us God does not listen to them?

To seek ANY material things that will rust and become moth-eaten from our Creator seems to make God very small and petty. Lucky for us, God isn't a Genie, or a magician, or our personal doorman, holding open or slamming shut doors on a whim, known only to Him.

And to make God into a master manipulator or puppet master makes this life meaningless and pointless. God granted us the freedom to do good or to turn our backs on Him and do evil.

When King David prayed to God, he prayed seeking to be renewed and for his soul to be restored (Psalm 23:3) and he acknowledged that it was God Who would lead him towards righteousness. This is just as it should be, and just as it CAN be, for us as well!

Through Jesus, the one God has anointed as His Son and Prophet, we know that God wishes us to seek Him in prayer for spiritual, not material, things.

Let us, then, pray with honor and respect to the One Who created us and has the ability to give us all the spiritual help we need from his vast spiritual storehouse.