Sunday, December 25, 2016

Let Us Welcome The Adult #Jesus, Too! #JesusFollowers

Today, we "welcome" Jesus into the world along with Christendom. This is a Jesus we already know, a man fully grown and with whom we are more than acquainted.

This isn't a baby we must perpetually welcome into our homes. We are confronted instead with the adult Jesus.

Meeting the adult Jesus is difficult for many, and even frightens them to meet him as an adult and not a helpless, unassuming child. The adult Jesus scared the religious elites of his day because of what he asked, just as he scares the religious elites of today.

Jesus is an adult whom we must each decide whether to ignore, or to serve, as God intended us to do.

If we claim his name, and wish to be identified with it, we must not assume that admiring a baby in a manger is what God wishes. We must not delude ourselves that admiration - or even worship - is alone sufficient. We cannot ignore the adult Jesus, or prefer the baby instead of the adult.

The adult Jesus is hidden away by the religious elites. He scares them. A fully human Jesus, fully grown, with a clearly understood and fully formed mission and a challenging religion of Good Works, scares them to death.

So this adult Jesus isn't celebrated at Christmas. And he never makes an appearance the rest of the year.

Who is this Jesus?

Jesus, the adult, was of course born a baby, but he was born fully a man, of human parents, just as we were born. He grew in the knowledge of God and gained wisdom; he pleased God in all he did. When he became an adult, he was chosen and anointed by God to be our Master, our Teacher, our Template and the Example of how a human being should live for the glory of God and most beneficially for our fellow human beings.

This Jesus is not the one created for us by Priests whom we must simply admire and worship from afar; unable to obey, unable to follow because he is so different, so distant, so alien.

We may instead celebrate the Jesus - a man called and chosen by God - whom we can fully love as our elder brother, and the one whom we can actively follow as our example in all things. We may become more like God because one of us has done it already, setting the example towards which we may strive.

Let us remember the birth, but also the adult life, of THIS Jesus, a Jesus worth celebrating on this, and every, day.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Costly Faith #Jesus Calls Us To Follow! #JesusFollowers

"Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:27-31)

What does Jesus mean when he says, "Counting the costs?"

Too many people are willing to believe in a God that requires nothing – no work, to time, no money, no effort, and no works of love; a religion that’s made easy, that requires less effort than is required to put a meal in a microwave.

They're more than ready to go to Heaven, as long as God carries them there without any requirement that they move their feet a single step.

But the inconvenient problem for those who believe this, and wish to continue to call themselves "Christian" or followers of Christ Jesus, is that this is not the religion Jesus preached. That’s not the path he calls us to walk. It's not the life he wishes us to lead in this life. And it doesn't even lead to eternal salvation with God, our Father.

If people really put a faith in our God at the center of their lives, and believed that Jesus himself lays out this religion in his words, then they would find no work for God too hard, no self-denial too severe, and no offering of service in the name of God’s chosen Son, Jesus to be enough.

Jesus spoke about costly, righteous obedience that would cause people to hate us, and a Godly kingdom here on earth that requires us to act righteously, loving even our enemies. God would then reward us with Heaven based only on our deeds.

That’s a salvation that is not easy, lazy or cheaply obtained with our vain words and lengthy prayers (Matt. 6:7; 7:21.)

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.

Jesus never said that salvation would come without cost. He never said it would require no effort, or that it cannot or must not be earned. In fact, he said just the opposite.

His parables, including this one about the costs involved in building a tower, all point to a costly faith – a faith that requires us to give all we have to serving God by loving and serving both Him and our fellow human beings.

If faith costs nothing, and salvation can be achieved without effort, what "costs" must we count?

If effort and self-sacrifice is not required of us by God, then of what "costs" does Jesus speak regarding the tower in this parable?

If the wide and easy path is the path condemned by Jesus, why do so many seek it?

Those who don't plan, or don't count the costs, or don’t believe there ARE costs in achieving eternal salvation deserve to be mocked, just as those who would build a tower without considering the costs would deserve to be mocked, says Jesus.

And those who don’t consider ALL they have to be on the line when following Jesus should reconsider calling themselves by his name. We must be willing to share all, give all, and do all in order to follow the Paths of Righteousness and, ultimately, eternal Salvation Jesus calls us to follow.

"Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." (Luke 12:48.) Does this sound like the words of someone advocating and approving an easy, lazy faith, to be rewarded by God with a cheaply obtained eternal life?

God said at Jesus' baptism, when He adopted Jesus as his anointed Son and appointed him as our Example and Savior, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him." (Matt. 17:15.) We should, then, listen to and believe Jesus’s words, both here and elsewhere, when he says we must obey God's commands and follow his own example, doing all things he has done in obedience to our Creator.

God chose this perfectly obedient human being to be our example in all things. We therefore must make every effort to humbly and honorably seek to follow Jesus in obedience to his life's pattern, which pleased God so much.

As this year draws to a close, let us rededicate ourselves to a costly service that honors Jesus’ words and follows his example.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Jesus is Our Perfect Moral Example in Life and Death #JesusFollowers

The life, teachings and death of Jesus inspire us to follow Jesus' example.

Jesus had the fullness of his Father’s spirit; and we have also a portion of the same. This puts all the children of men on equal ground, and makes Jesus our Pattern.

His example becomes the point after which we are to aspire; for his righteousness must be the criterion of judgment; because he arrived at perfect obedience, and by doing in all things that which he was sent by his Father, he has shown by his example that all are able to obey him.

The path that he trod is the same path and course of self-denial that we must tread, and which is untrodden by every creature, till he is finally led by the same spirit that led our great Pattern, Jesus. In that way, his righteousness becomes ours; and this is the only righteousness that ever saved an individual in the world - obedience to the manifestation of the will of God.

Jesus was made a perfect example to us, to show to us that for the testimony of God our creator, we must be willing, as Jesus was, to surrender up everything unto God; and to do his will in everything, even if it cost us our natural lives. For if we are brought into the situation that he was in, that we cannot save our natural lives without giving up the testimony that God has called us to bear, we have his example not to do it, though we may feel as he did, that it is a great trial.

We have it now on record. We need only take up the precepts of Jesus, only look at his example, and his direction to his disciples, and see if we can find anything, any testimony worthy to be compared with it.

What is true religion? It consists entirely in righteousness, that righteousness which is acceptable in the sight of God. It unites us with God, as it did his blessed Son, and brings us to partake of his holy nature, and we become one with him – as the disciples formerly were declared to be partakers of the divine nature.

Until we do everything in our power, by every means put in our hands, we shall not find support from God! There are no sins so great, in this probationary, earthly state, our Father would not stand ready to forgive, if we turn to Him with full purpose of heart and acknowledge our transgressions.

God gives us the grace of repentance, and enables us so to walk as to be reconciled to Him, and gain a greater establishment in Himself, and in the truth, than when we first came out of His creating hands.

Adapted from sermons by Elias Hicks (1748-1830) 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Is God Doing His Job? #JesusFollowers

Some people have turned away from God because they feel He isn't doing His "job" of perfectly orchestrating the Universe.

Actor and atheist Stephen Fry has even attacked God for not curing cancer, and for allowing suffering. And a prominent Biblical scholar turned away from his faith in God because of this "problem of suffering," by which he means that God "allows" suffering, pain, abuse, hatred, wars and other calamities.

People have long blamed God for causing storms and tidal waves, or for not curing all diseases, or for allowing children to die, or for allowing a spouse or relative to be killed in a car accident or plane crash. Others blame God because they are not prosperous enough, or because they have abusive spouses, or for their dead-end job, etc, etc, etc.

But that's not what God does (even if it's what ancient people - pagan and Jew alike - thought God/or "the gods" SHOULD be doing.)

Jesus teaches us that it rains on the good and the bad alike. He doesn't promise prosperity for those who follow his message of repentance and righteousness, but instead, we may receive persecution and hatred from others.

Many religious people today cite God's "promises" as if they were going to be angry if He doesn't comply with them. But this is backwards. And it's not a healthy relationship to have with our Creator.

Moses in Deuteronomy notes that we can't bribe God with words or sacrifices to get Him to do our bidding. The Hebrew Prophets say God isn't in the storm, and in fact, God isn't there to manipulate the Universe for our benefit at all.

So, there's a far more healthy way to view both God and our suffering.

Jesus demolishes the idea that God is partial and uses Nature to punish us, as if we somehow bring Nature's wrath upon us by our behavior. He was asked by the disciples, "'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." (John 9:2-3)

In the Book of Luke, Jesus uses two examples of disasters - a tower falling in Siloam and Pilate "mingling blood" with the Jews' sacrifices - to dispel the myth that our sins cause disasters (13:1-5.)

And these words of Jesus tell us all we need to know about the cause of natural disasters, birth defects, and all of the things with which we struggle in our lives.

James, the brother of Jesus, puts suffering into perspective, saying that suffering should be met with JOY, because it brings spiritual perfection by enduring it (James 1:2.) Why, then would we even blame God for "allowing" suffering?

So where IS God, exactly, amid all of this pain and suffering, and what is His "job?" James tells us God sends wisdom whenever we ask it from Him (1:5.) Maybe we should prayerfully do just that before raising our fists in accusation against God.

The fact is, God does not leave us, and is never far from us,  even when we leave Him. God is here for us every second of every day - in the midst of every prayer - ready to fill us with His Spirit, His Wisdom and His Love, and give us peace and strength for whatever comes our way. God's not in the storm, He's in the still, quiet voice after the storm (1 Kings 19:12.)

"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." (Isaiah 41:10.)

We shouldn't be asking God where HE was when the storms hit, or when tragedy befalls a family, or when our neighbors are hungry, ill-clothed or homeless. We should ask ourselves: WHERE ARE WE? "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you," says James (4:8.) The well-known Psalm says "I will fear no evil, for you are with me," (23:4.)

And as we comfort them and fill their needs, we should encourage them to seek the tender, loving arms of God, our eternal Father in Heaven. God's "job" is to help us become spiritually complete.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hearing, And Doing, IS Our Salvation #JesusFollowers

"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock." (Matt. 7:24-25)

Here in Jesus’ words we see what that rock really is which is a Christian’s security in the day of his trial; namely, the attending to and following the advice and counsel that Jesus had given in the Sermon on the Mount, and doing what he had been recommending us to practice.

Jesus had been recommending to his audience the practice of moral virtue, or the conforming men’s attitudes and actions to that law or rule of action which is founded in the reason of things.

It is both hearing these sayings of Jesus AND doing them, which is (in Jesus' words) building upon a rock, and which is a Christian's ONLY security in the day of his judgement. 

It is not professing Jesus, nor calling him Lord, nor giving him the highest praises, nor is it an “orthodox faith” or its creeds, nor is it assenting to mysteries and unintelligible propositions, that are the rock a Christian may safely and securely build upon.

It is to have our minds possessed with those virtuous qualities, and our lives adorned with those worthy and virtuous actions that Jesus in the preceding Sermon [on the Mount] had been recommending, which alone can afford a just ground of hope and comfort.

Our Master goes on in verse 26: “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.”

Here we see what folly and madness it is for a person to make anything besides hearing these sayings of Jesus and doing them (or the practice of moral virtue) the ground of his confidence; because anything, and everything short of this would be like building a house upon the sand, which when the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon it, it would fall, and great would be the fall of it.

Whoever believes in Jesus is called upon to become a virtuous and good person; such a person will be saved, or have everlasting life. And whosoever in this sense does not believe, that is, does not become virtuous and good, but goes on in a vicious and wicked course of life, such a person will die in his sins.

It is the doing or not doing what Jesus requires, which is the ground of our safety or danger; and this is the test by which we shall be judged, according to Christ's own words.

The Gospel are to become a principle of action in the believer, and rightly direct their mind and life.

But our Master makes the case still plainer, if such a thing is necessary, in his answer to the man's question, Matthew 19:16. “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” This was a plain and a fair question. And the answer which Jesus returned to this important question was, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

This answer was as plain and full as the case required. The only ground of divine acceptance, that which renders us pleasing and acceptable to God, and which secures to them the happiness of another world, is keeping the commandments. 

From all which it is most evident that by the Commandments Jesus means the moral law, or that rule of action which is founded in the reason of things; and which therefore every rational being ought to direct his behavior by, and whoever makes this law the measure of his actions shall have everlasting life.

Here again we see Jesus declare that the way to eternal life, or the true grounds of divine acceptance is to keep the Commandments, by loving God and our neighbor, which is nothing else but conforming our minds and lives to that rule of action which is founded in the reason of things. 

The questions which were put to him were of the highest importance to us all, namely, what we should do that we might obtain eternal life; and he was sent out into the world that he might be a safe guide to us in this very issue, and has given us a full and true answer to those questions, plainly declaring all that was necessary for us to know and do in order to obtain eternal life. 

We may depend upon it that the keeping the Commandments, or the governing our minds and lives by that rule of action which is founded in the reason of things will most certainly render us pleasing and acceptable to God, and secure to us the happiness of another world.

(Adapted from "The Gospel of Christ Asserted," by Thomas Chubb, 1738)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

#Jesus Sets The Pattern For "Church" #JesusFollowers

Jesus laid a foundation for friendly organizations and families of love, who, being united in the possession, and living under the power and influence of, his Gospel, might be acted by a friendly and brotherly affection, and from thence be led to be helpers to, and watch over each other for their good.

They are to bear one another's burdens, sympathize with and comfort one another under the various afflictions and persecutions they might meet with in, and from the world; and by a good example provoke one another to love and good works.

Christian societies are intended to be a specimen of the blessed effects of the Gospel of Jesus, when it is received as it ought to be ; that is, when it becomes a principle of action in men, which rightly directs and governs their minds and lives.

Christianity is not a name, but a thing; and therefore it is not the professing, but living, according to the Gospel which truly represents it to the world. Christians are known to be such, not by their name, or by their profession, but by their lives. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35.)

The banner of a Christian is not the picture of a cross hung upon a pole, or made upon a man's forehead; but it is a virtuous and blameless conversation, or a mind and life conformed to the Gospel of Jesus. These are the purposes which Christian associations are intended to serve, and thus Jesus intended that such associations should be subservient to the furtherance of the Gospel, and should recommend it to a general acceptance.

Jesus did not lay the foundation of friendly organizations to answer the purposes of pomp, or wealth, or power.

He never intended that among his disciples and followers, some should be singled out from their brethren to be possessed of great revenues, live in stately palaces, wallow in luxury and ease, or sordidly heap up riches to raise a family; nor that they should lord it over those by whose labors they are maintained, clothed in pompous and elaborate dresses, placed on thrones or garnished stalls and feats of honor, assuming and exercising dominion over their brethren; and that others should labor to maintain them, be subject to them, bow down before them, and call them Rabbi, Rabbi.

Jesus was so far from giving any approval to anything of this kind, that on the contrary he has strictly forbade it. 

"But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,  even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve," (Matt: 20:25-28)

And also, “But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' because you have only one teacher, and all of you are brothers. And don't call anyone on earth 'Father,' because you have only one Father, the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'Teachers,' because you have only one teacher, the Anointed One! The person who is greatest among you must be your servant.” (Matt. 23:9-11.)

Here we see Jesus has taken all possible care that no authority or dominion, superiority or pre-eminence, dignifying or distinguishing should take place among his disciples and followers considered as such. He has not only forbidden it, but repeated that prohibition over, and over, and over.

This is the charge which Jesus has given; and therefore Reverend, Right Reverend, and Most Reverend Fathers in God, and all other badges of distinction, and marks of honor pre-eminence, superiority, or dominion, which take place in Christian organizations considered as such, and which serve to introduce a groundless respect and veneration for the persons of men, and a groundless submission to their pretended authority, are not only not Christian, but the most gross Anti-Christianism. They are set up in opposition to, and in defiance of Jesus’ authority, and his special charge and command to the contrary. 

This is not to say that Christians are not to render to their fellow Christians honor to whom it is due, (that is, to such of their fellow Christians who, by their virtue and good works, have rendered themselves worthy of it), and by showing decent marks of respect to them.

But if, in a Christian organization, a person seeks to be greater than others, it must be, not by his having greater possessions, or greater marks of honor conferred upon him, or by exercising dominion over his brethren (these being Anti-Christian) but it must be in his greater services and in his being more useful than others, in imitation of his Master, who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.

(Adapted from sermons by Rev. Thomas Chubb)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Did Jesus Promise His Followers Material Prosperity? #JesusFollowers

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 6, 2016

When Trials & Troubles Come Our Way #JesusFollowers

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 30, 2016

#Jesus Calls Us to a Life of Works, Action, Love and Service! #JesusFollowers

God equips us, from birth, with gifts that are meant to be used for Good. Jesus - the one God has chosen and sent out as our perfect example - calls on us to do all that is within our power to perform Good Works, relying on these Original, Natural gifts, and seeking greater strength and wisdom from God, Who gives to us abundantly when we need spiritual renewal.

Jesus, God's spokesman and our example, did not chart out for us any new way to earn God's favor and eternal life. In truth, he taught the same path that always was, and always will be, the true path to eternal life; namely, keeping the commandments, or loving God and our neighbor, which is the same thing, and is the sum and substance of the God’s Moral Law.

Jesus' call, "whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" (Matt. 7:12) summaries his entire ministry and the Hebrew Bible's moral teaching.

By following after the path God wishes us to lead – the path of Righteousness – we will live fuller, more complete and more joyful lives. Jesus lays out for us this path clearly, plainly, and in a way that needs no further revelations or elaboration from men.

Jesus has clearly called us to a life of works and action, of radical love and service, calling on us to love our neighbors just as we love ourselves. (Mark 12:33; Matt. 22:35-40)

Jesus teaches us that we should humbly perform Good Works and Holy Service. 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 calls us to seek to become more holy people, to seek to act in righteousness.

Jesus calls on us to deny ourselves, and to serve others first. We should live our lives in the joyful service of others.

Jesus calls us to achieve, to do, to act, to work, to seek out the truth, to be humble, to worship and praise our God, and to love others.

‎Jesus‬ calls us to put his teachings into practice in our lives, lest we build our houses of faith on the shifting sands of mere words and empty praise, rather than the solid rock of obedience. (Matt. 7:24-26)

Jesus calls on us to not be hypocrites. He pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees – the religious leaders of his day – for being obsessed with man-made doctrines and rituals, but neglecting, "the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness." (Matt. 23:23)

And how do we know that we can do this, that we can do all that Jesus asks of us? Because Jesus lived in perfect obedience, doing in all things that pleased God (his and our Father) and showed by this example that ALL OF US are able to do as he did.

We are left without excuse, therefore, and are called to humbly seek the spiritual completeness Jesus achieved, asking God's forgiveness when we fall short, repenting of these sins, and seeking strength to continue in obedience.

Let us humbly and with reverence serve God according to the example He has chosen for us – through the life and the teachings of Jesus. Let him alone be our example and guide in all things.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

#Jesus, Our Teacher! #JesusFollowers

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 he 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, October 16, 2016

Vain Words Cannot Save Our Souls #JesusFollowers

Uttering a few words expecting those words alone to actually accomplish something is the very definition of "vain words."

Just saying, "I'm more financially stable," or "I'm thinner," won't do anything without effort to make those goals happen, any more than saying "I'm college educated" can be true without actually attending college!

To "name and claim" something, is therefore a pointless exercise, especially when it's eternal life with God that's the object being sought.

Jesus repeatedly made it clear that we cannot take a short cut to either righteousness or eternal life. Nor should we seek gain from God for ourselves. This means material gain, of course, but it even goes deeper - deeper than modern Christians frequently dare to venture, because so many casually disregard Jesus' own teachings.

Jesus specifically said that those who seek to save their lives would lose their lives (Luke 17:33.) And that when we are standing before God, vain professions will have nothing to do with how we are judged worthy (Matt. 7:22) but our works alone will be how we are judged (Matt. 10:41; Matt. 16:27; Jer. 32:19.)

Why, then, is self-salvation by profession of our faith alone the entire focus of the modern Christian message?

Nearly the entire message of Jesus was focused on living righteously here on earth and serving others (Mark 10:43; Matt. 20:26.) But Christians focus entirely on individuals selfishly escaping from this world, which they degrade as TOTALLY fallen and corrupt - something Jesus never did.

Jesus calls us to a life of self-sacrifice, a life of Good Works, joyfully serving each other in the name of God's Kingdom, bringing it to fruition right here, and right now.

Jesus calls us to this kind of life not because he wants us to brag about being "children of the king" or claiming righteousness by proxy. Nor by tallying up our goodness and translating it into "points" that we can use to achieve Heaven.

Scoring and judging is up to Almighty God. We are simply called to play by His rules and let Him alone determine our worthiness.

We should also remember that Jesus' warning for us not to judge applies to our own eternal salvation, which is God's alone to give, not for us to demand, especially not with works-free faith, which amounts to spiritual shoplifting.

When we demand eternity from God - either by our vain words and vain, arrogant professions or by implying that we've "done enough" on this earth to earn it - we are failing to let God be our God, and are instead making God our servant.

In truth, Jesus calls on us to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23) and those who seek to be first should be the servant of all others (Mark 9:35.)

And if even Jesus didn't save himself from death on a cross by cleverly defending himself or by running away, why do some expect to save themselves with a few vain words, and running away from Good Works because they see them as "hard" or difficult?

Let us learn to therefore humble ourselves and deny ourselves before God, obeying Him and Jesus, the one He chose and adopted as His son, and sent out to be our example in all things.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Repentance And Reformation #JesusFollowers

Jesus did not propose or point out to us any new way to God's favor and eternal life, but on the contrary, he recommended that good old way which always was, and always will be the true way to life eternal; namely, keeping the commandments, or the loving God and our neighbor which is the same thing, and is the sum and substance of the moral law. (Matt. 19:17; 22:37-40)

This plain path-way to heaven lay neglected, and for the most part unfrequented; men both Jews and Gentiles having forsaken the fountain of living water, that is, the true way to life eternal; and shown to themselves cisterns - broken cisterns that can hold no water; that is, they had found out new and false ways of recommending themselves to God.

And this rendered our Savior's undertaking and ministry so much the more needful. And therefore it was truly said of him that he was to be not the maker, but the restorer, of right paths to dwell and walk in.

Jesus requires and recommends a conformity of mind and life to that unalterable rule of action which is founded in the reason of things as the only ground of divine acceptance, and as the only way to life eternal; so if men have lived in a violation of this righteous law by which they have rendered themselves displeasing to God, and worthy of His just resentment.

Secondly, Jesus requires and recommends repentance and reformation of their evil ways as the only ground of the divine mercy and forgiveness. The doctrine of repentance and remission of sin were what Jesus was chiefly concerned to announce to the world.

 "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:3)

As to the doctrine that Jesus has, by his sufferings and death, made satisfaction to God for the sins of the world, and thereby merited the sinners discharge from condemnation, this doctrine Jesus did not preach, and therefore it cannot be any part of his Gospel, but it is directly opposite to it, and tends to subvert it.

The true doctrines of the Gospel of our Master and Savior Jesus Christ concerning this matter are the doctrines of repentance and remission of sins; that is, repentance and reformation is the only way to the divine mercy.

"For if you forgive others their trespasses," says Jesus, "your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matt. 6:14-15)

Let not therefore the sinner trust nor rely upon the vain words of men, but let them trust and rely upon the words of our Master, Jesus, who was sent by God to be their guide and instructor in this particular, and who, they may be assured upon good grounds, will not deceive them.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Thomas Chubb)

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Being A Good Influence #JesusFollowers

James wrote: "Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death." (5:20.) There are many ways of being a good influence, and all of them should have our full attention.

The person who in any way lessens the sorrows and increases the happiness of another person, is to be regarded, so far as his good influence extends, as a benefactor.

But every kind of good influence can't be extended by everyone. The poor person can't build up by public taxes the institutions of learning and of charity. Those without education can’t yet enrich others with treasures of wisdom that they don’t yet possess.

But every class of people, in their work and where they live, can contribute their good influence, whether it's small or great, to increase the amount of human happiness in the world. 

Yet what is human happiness, if it's measured only by the span of our earthly existence? It has many sorrows, and soon passes away. Our distress and joy only last a short time here in this life.

But it’s the duty, and it ought to be a part of the happiness of our lives, to exert what influence we can to make the journey of life pleasant to our fellow travelers. 

And of course extending our comfort and charity to others to heal their souls – the part that extends past this narrow existence on earth – is our highest dignity. However humble we are, we can be that kind of influence.

We call "sinners" those who live without any reference to God; or to the sacred principles of virtue and religion. 

These are people who have never determined for themselves that they’ll serve our Creator or the one He chose to be our example, Jesus. They act influenced by motives which belong mostly to the present life, and they neglect the solemn consideration, that they will stand before the judgment seat of God, and that their eternal happiness is intimately connected with the habits they’re forming now.

They don’t consider the love of God as a powerful feeling of the soul; and the teachings of Jesus aren’t regarded by them as a rule of action that allows for no exceptions or excuses. In a word, the sinner is one who’s formed no fixed ideas about serving God, and they have no intention of doing it!

To convert a sinner, then, is to turn them from the practice of this neglect towards the love and practice of holiness, as taught by our Master.

It means having a positive influence that will dry up many of the sources of misery, to spread happiness, and even reaches forward into the eternal world, filling the soul with joy, so long as our souls exist.

I call upon you in the name of Jesus to engage in this work. You are surrounded by those who are strangers to faith and hope. Will you make no effort to direct their influence to the good, to resist the moral chaos which rages around you?

It's by gentleness, by kindness, by a genuine love, by patience and perseverance, that we are to succeed in this work of goodness. Your virtuous purity, submission, obedience and joy must speak for you in the cause which you wish to advocate.

To attempt this is the most generous work in which we can be involved; to do this is to save a soul. That’s something worth attempting! And if we do this in a spirit of love, we won’t labor in vain!

(Adapted from a sermon by Nathan Parker, 1831)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

#Jesus: Fully and Completely Human, Like Us #JesusFollowers

What happens if Jesus was actually "just" a human being? What if Jesus was conceived and born exactly as we were, and was fully and completely human, just like us? The implications are startling for how we view our faith in God, and in a very good way.

Those who walked with him during his ministry knew very well that Jesus got hungry, got angry, got tired, slept, wept, bled, and prayed to God, just like they did. They knew him as a boy, they saw him gain knowledge, and grow from a baby into a man. In fact, this is the picture that manages to come through even in the Gospels as they have come down to us.

So, if this was the view of the earliest followers of Jesus, what happens when we, too, view Jesus as our elder brother - a fellow human being, fully and completely human, like us?

Something wonderful happens! With centuries of human inventions swept away, Jesus' teachings become fresh, alive and challenging, just as when he presented them the first time to astonished and joyful crowds.

With a completely human Jesus, the Gospel is a glorious set of challenges to accomplish. Jesus no longer preaches DOWN to us, knowing we cannot obey his lofty teachings that only a God-man can follow.

We must obey God’s moral Laws, and seek to follow Jesus in ALL of his teachings – because Jesus was able to follow God in all things, and said we could do all that he had done.

If we don't believe this is true, or think it's impossible, then we need to stop following him, because we are liars, not Jesus Followers. (1 John 2:4-6)

The Apostles said that God chose this fully and completely human Jesus (Acts 2:22) from among us human beings to be our example. And when Jesus said we may follow him, we know that we are able.

As a "mere" human being, Jesus' teachings become something amazing. His full and complete humanity becomes our FULL pattern of life, because he followed all he tells us God requires of us, and calls on us to do exactly the same. If we cannot do this, then Jesus was a liar when he says he did all God asked of him.

But he was just not lying, of course. His life and teachings show that he was honest about his relationship with God, and that this is the relationship we are ALSO meant to have with our Creator.

In short, the goals Jesus set for us only make sense if they are achievable BY us. And they are achievable only if he was fully and completely human, as we are.

When Jesus is viewed as fully and completely human, we accept as truth that God chose him from among humanity to be our example. And when he said we may follow him, we know that we are able.

God knows our spirit before we are born. He has always been fully aware of what we are capable, and in what ways we are weak. He didn't need to pretend to be human to do this. He is all-knowing, and all-seeing, and chose this perfectly obedient human being to be our example.

Jesus, who, as a man, was faithful to God in all things, assures us that we can do all that he did. (John 13:15; 14:12) Because Jesus followed God not with his lips alone but with his acts and with his heart, we need never fear acting as he did, letting our humble Works define our Faith.

When Jesus says "Take up your cross daily and follow me," he's calling us on a journey of joyful suffering and service, just as he embarked upon. 

But if we do not follow his words, we are not really following Jesus. If we make excuses for not obeying his call to us, we are not worthy of his name. This fully and completely human Jesus is meant to be followed, not just admired.

“If you love me, keep my commands,” he says (John 14:15) But If we claim to know and love him, but reject his teachings, we are liars, unfit for his name. (1 John 2:4)

The fully human Jesus doesn't set impossible goals for the rest of us. If a human being just like us calls us to be perfect, "just as your Father in Heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48) and he, himself achieved it, then that is a challenge worthy of human beings.

We lose our excuses for sinning with a fully, completely human Jesus. We can no longer say we are "only human," hiding behind our alleged inherited moral sinfulness, if Jesus, too, was born as we were, and yet found favor with God. We can no longer hide behind our alleged human frailty, we cannot blame others or our supposed genetic inability, and we can't say that sinning is our "nature," if Jesus shared that nature with us, fully and completely.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

THE SERMON OF SERMONS – Using Our God-Given Salt #JesusFollowers

Jesus said: "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world. 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. 5:13-16)  (ESV)
We are called by Jesus to be salt and light – salting the earth with goodness and enlightening it with righteous deeds But if our salt has become tasteless, what then? What if we act without righteousness, or are so infrequent in our Good Deeds, that having they become pointless? Worse, what if we simply ignore Jesus’ call, because we have come to believe that this salt and light are unnecessary, never to be used at all in our lives?

Jesus spoke to challenge us and calls us today to be examples in his name. As God’s chosen Prophet and Spokesman, Jesus authoritatively calls us to take up his challenge and to follow his example. 

We are called to show by our ACTS that we are heeding his call, and are taking up his challenge – not in a prideful way, but in a way that is pleasing to God, our Creator.

Coming in the middle of Jesus’ powerful Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew, this is a clear and unambiguous call for us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world – letting our light shine before others.

It’s vital to understand that Jesus believes we are capable of doing Good Works for others in his name. In fact, he says we MUST seek to do these Good Works, if we claim to be his followers and wish to still call him “Master.” Some have denied this is necessary, but to deny what Jesus clearly says makes his call meaningless, and the salt worthless.

We've been given the gifts of salt – among them, the gifts of Jesus’ holy example and our God-given ability to choose righteousness over wickedness. But if we allow those gifts to become stale, either by throwing them on the ground to be trampled or pretend that we lack the ability to use them to do Good, then we've failed.

We've been given gifts of light – among them, Jesus’ teachings and our God-given ability of reason and knowledge. But is we convince ourselves that using them to serve others is unnecessary, or convince ourselves that Good Works are merely OPTIONAL things we do if we feel like it – then we make the Good and Beneficial Message (Gospel) of Jesus into a mockery.

Clearly, Jesus calls us to do good and great things to glorify God, our Heavenly Father, and as a fully human man himself, he has shown us that we, as human beings, are fully able to do great things on behalf of others. Let there, then, be no excuse to hide our gifts! 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

When The World Crashes Down Around Us #JesusFollowers

On this, the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, when the world seemed to come apart, we pause and reflect on just how fragile we, and our world, seems to be.

When the world crashes down around us, we look to God, and we look to each other, for comfort and strength. And this is just as it should be.

God assures us that He will grant us comfort, strength and peace in times of tragedy and times of struggle and pain. Many turn in difficult times to the comfort of the Twenty-third Psalm, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

Also they turn also to Isaiah: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Jesus assures us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4)

And just like the entire world in which we all live, the individual world in which we live is in danger all the time of crashing down around us.

A lost job; a car accident; a natural disaster; the loss of a spouse, a child or a parent; the sudden end of a relationship, an unexpected terminal illness, all of these can put us in a place of pain and anguish.

These and many more can become our personal Nine-Elevens - far less devastating on a national scale, for sure, but personally and closely devastating nonetheless.

How do we get through our tragedies? With the help of others, and with the help of God.

We are often shaken and damaged by our circumstances, and our reaction to our struggles, frankly, is often to retreat inside ourselves and hide.

Our spirits were made by our Creator to comfort others, and to also seek the comfort of others in our time of need.

We are called to be the light of the world, and in times of trouble, we demonstrate that light.

On 9/11, rescue workers, ministers, and the people of New York City rushed in to help those hurt and those whose families had died in the attack, many putting their safety and even their long-term health in harm's way for others.

Jesus says that there is no greater love than to give one’s life for his friends, and we are his friends if we do what he calls us to do. (John 15:13)

The firemen and police officers who risked their lives to enter the Twin Towers that fateful day to attempt to save others were surely the friends of Jesus. They were literally the light that guided many to safety, before losing their own lives.

There are some who raised their fists to the sky that day, and on many days since, and said, “Why, God? Why are YOU doing this to US?” But they miss the point. God, and God’s chosen spokesman, Jesus, calls us to be HIS hands, HIS loving arms, and HIS sympathetic tears here on this earth.

God is not in the destruction, but in the healing after it. He is not in the storm, assures the psalmist, but in the "small, still voice" following the storm. (1 Kings 19:12)

Jesus assures us that God is our Father, who loves us so much that he chose Jesus and sent him out to preach a Good and Beneficial Message (Gospel) throughout the world. (John 3:16; Luke 4:43)

Whenever we comfort the afflicted, clothe the naked, give shelter to the homeless, and comfort those in need after a tragedy, we are comforting Jesus himself, and we are acting as God wishes us to act. (Matt. 25:40)

Let us be the light in times of darkness that Jesus calls us to be.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Jesus We Need To Hear Again #JesusFollowers

Should we be actively building a better and a more Godly world, or should we simply do nothing and wait for God to make it better? Should we seek our own advantage, or put other's needs ahead of our own? Should we do Good things, or just call ourselves “good?” (Or are we allowed to even CALL ourselves that?)

If we read the words of Jesus, the answers to these and other questions are clear. But if we listen to today's church, the answers are unclear.

The teachings of Jesus are clear, consistent and powerful.

Jesus said his words would last forever - would not pass away. And his teachings about how we should act in this world were clear.

If we understand that, we would naturally put Jesus clear, plain teachings at the center of our Faith, and they would obviously be placed at the core of any teachings about that Faith.

And yet, modern Christianity has been bogged down with man-made words and man-made doctrines that muddle Jesus' teachings and message, and often obscure it entirely, making them of no effect and importance.

Today’s Churchmen and theologians speak words Jesus never uttered: "Justification," "Sanctification," "Total Depravity," “Original Sin,” "works-salvation." But these words give birth to doctrines that make Jesus' religion a toxic one.

Jesus never said that children are born "unable not to sin." Instead, Jesus tells the disciples to allow children to come to him, since they represent the purity of God's Kingdom.

Jesus never even hinted that human beings couldn't perform Good Works from birth. Instead, he says we MUST seek to do Good Works - deeds of the heart that help our neighbors and show them God’s love.

Jesus said we are to begin acting NOW to build up God's Kingdom, "on earth as it is in Heaven." We aren't to wait for any special signs from God, or to wait at all.

We are justified, says Jesus, not by our vain words, or our intentions alone, or even by faith alone, but rather by our acts, which are judged only by God.

Jesus says we become holy by DOING what is holy, good and righteous. Holiness and Righteousness are ACTS we do, not a mere THING we can get by simply claiming Jesus' holiness as our own, as some teach.

Jesus calls us to turn the other cheek, to not seek our own advantage, to follow the narrow and difficult path of his religion, and that those who seek to be first will be last. Modern preachers, however, often say we must only seek to get our SELVES into Heaven, and that it can be done easily, without effort.

Our goal isn't to simply to "save" ourselves, says Jesus. Those who seek to save themselves, in fact lose themselves. But if we deny ourselves, and lose ourselves in serving others, we gain victory, eternally and in this life.

Far from condemning Good Works, Jesus calls us to do them, without pride, because Godliness is our natural state.

Jesus assures us that we will be judged by God according to our Works - the deeds of our hands - and even then, we'll be judged by a merciful and holy God.

Our Works will light the world, says Jesus, and they will reflect our spiritual journey towards Righteousness as we repent continually for falling short of the Ideal Jesus sets for us.

That is a path Jesus calls us to seek and follow, in his footsteps. And it's a path that is easily understood even by a child.

By twisting and adding to Jesus' simple words and teachings, modern theologians and ministers make Jesus confusing and strange. He becomes someone who cannot be understood without the help of a Priestly class.

Jesus tells us that neither God nor his teachings were ever meant to be seen "through a glass, darkly." Jesus is a window we can look through to see how God wishes us to live.

Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him, to do JUST AS he did, and even greater things than he did.

This isn't the call of someone who condemns Good Works, who says "wait for God to act, don't act yourselves," or someone who wishes us to simply admire his righteousness and not emulate it.

We are clearly and decisively called by Jesus to go and work Righteousness in this world, doing all we can to be an example of the light of God that was born within us, kindled by the example of Jesus, our teacher.

When we begin to see Jesus as an example we can follow, he becomes a Master we can also love as a brother.

So, let us go out and work Righteousness in this world, doing all we can to be an example of the light of God that was born within us, kindled by the example of Jesus, our teacher.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

What is Moral and Right? #JesusFollowers

Morality always supposes rational, intelligent and free beings. In order for any actions to be morally good or evil, they must be capable of being known, and also capable of being chosen or refused.

We perceive in ourselves the powers of thinking, understanding, reasoning, choosing, or refusing. And the Scripture always recognizes these powers within us. 

God says to sinful men through his Prophets: "Repent and turn yourselves from all transgressions, so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby you have transgressed, and make in you a new heart, and a new spirit." (Ezek. 18:30-31)

God speaks to Cain, telling him, “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen. 4:7)

The word 'morality' is used in two senses: the one more restrained, the other comprehensive. In the restrained sense are included sobriety, justice, equity, goodness and mercy, or the duties more respecting ourselves, others, and our neighbors. In the more enlarged and comprehensive meaning of the word are included not only these duties, but also the duties owed to God.

This comprehensive sense of these terms are morality, virtue, moral righteousness, include all the necessary duties of a rational being, and is the more proper sense of the terms as they are generally used.

The things said to be morally good are reasonable in themselves, according to the case and circumstances which are beings are in, and the relations we have with others. To mention some instances, it's reasonable that a rational and intelligent being should preserve and use his rational powers and not lose the ability to govern himself by being intemperate or by any passions and affections excited by external things, whether good or evil.

It is also worthy of a rational creature that they should, according to their abilities, praise and adore the Author of their being, acknowledging the power, wisdom and goodness of which they see proofs and traces in themselves, and in all things around them; and that they should be thankful to Him for all His benefits and fear and reference Him.

Intelligent beings should also bear good will and kind affection to one another, since they all share in the same powers and benefits and are all exposed to the same weaknesses and wants and are dependent upon one another.

Thus, then, virtue, or moral righteousness, is and appears to be in itself fit and reasonable, and has a tendency to promote the happiness of particular beings and of societies.

This reasonableness of things is itself an obligation, and lays an obligation on every rational being by whom it is perceived. For whatever is fit, reasonable and equitable must be right, and the contrary, wrong.

Virtue, morality, or moral righteousness are therefore things of great importance, encompassing everything that is in itself reasonable: our duty to God and to each other, the duties of every relation, and due regulation of our thoughts and affections, as well as our outward actions.

Even in the more ordinary sense of the expression, it takes in everything that is reasonable, and includes honorable sentiments as well as outward worship and referential expressions about the Deity. It requires also kind affection, as well as good relations with others.

It consists of not only strict justice, but goodness, and mercy, and equity, and even forgiveness of injuries and offenses. For this also is reasonable in a world of creatures that are weak and fallible, who often offend against each other through mistakes or passions.

This law of nature, or reason, teaches repentance to all those who offend, for since virtue is right, whoever has transgressed and has done what's wrong must turn from that course and change it. It's the only way to become good, and become accepted in the sight of the holy, wise and impartial judge of all: God.

The duties of morality, or moral righteousness, are taught also by revelation.

One who has just sentiments of God and a serious regard to moral obligations is in a great measure fit and prepared for revelation, because we must be disposed to pay a regard to one who speaks in the name of God and teaches a doctrine of real holiness.

Jesus says, "If anyone desires to do his will, he will know about the teaching, whether it is from God, or if I am speaking from myself." (John 7:17) And when one acknowledged that there is one God and that "to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself is more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." Jesus said that he was "not far from the Kingdom of God." (Mark 12:33.)

Though we don't find the words virtue and vice, moral good and evil in Scripture, it often speaks of good and evil as a truly and intrinsically so, by which the characters of men are distinguished, and not by observing any ritual ordinances.

"What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices, says Yahweh... Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me... Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.” (Isaiah 1:11, 13, 17)

Says the Psalmist: "A little that a righteous man has, is better than the riches of the many wicked." (38:16) and "the righteous God loves righteousness, his face sees the upright." (11:7)

Micah writes: “He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”(6:8)

These texts speak of justice, mercy and piety as GOOD; intrinsically good, in a superior degree to all sacrifices and oblations.

The righteous - those who practice virtue and true holiness – are seeking to fulfill the will of God. The righteous, the virtuous are acting rightly and with sincerity in their state of trial. They have attained some resemblance of the divine nature and some preparedness for the heavenly state, of which others are lacking.

Those who despise, or speak lightly, of morality should consider that morality, its proper meaning, isn't merely honesty in the ways of this world. Nor is it only outward action. But virtue, or morality, in its comprehensive meaning, takes in the love of God and our neighbor, and everything that is reasonable. Its laws and precepts regulate thoughts, as well as outward actions.

It is true holiness. It is the image of God in man, and it is a worthiness for the rewards and happiness of the next life.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Nathaniel Lardner)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

THE SERMON OF SERMONS - God-Blessed: The Beatitudes #JesusFollowers

This world isn't perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes, it’s the opposite of Good. Often, it’s frustratingly bad. When everyone is seemingly coloring outside the lines, swerving into your lane, and making up their own rules as they go along (often hurting us in the process) we have to wonder whether there’s a way we can model Goodness for the world – for our own sakes as well as that of others.

The good news is that we have just such a thing: the teachings of Jesus; namely, the Sermon on the Mount.

If we had nothing of Jesus’ teachings in existence today other than the Sermon of the Mount, we would have almost all we would ever need to live our lives in a way pleasing to God and as an example for others.

These three chapters in the book of Matthew are the very core of Jesus’ message to us. And if we believe that Jesus is the man whom God chose, anointed, and sent out to us to preach how God wishes us to live and love, then these are very important chapters indeed.

The opening lines of the Sermon, the "Beatitudes," are among the best known verses in the Bible.
Many of these we remember from our youth:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt. 5:2-12)

Some Bible versions translate the word “Blessed” as “Happy” (the Latin word for “happy” actually is “beatitudus,” though of course Jesus didn't call them Beatitudes because he didn't speak Latin.)

But "Happy" really isn't a strong enough word in English to convey what’s meant here. "God-Blessed" may be closer, because Jesus is conveying something important about God and what God does for us.

God blesses those who are weak, who have a broken spirit, who are thirsting for righteousness, yearning for mercy, and who are being reviled, persecuted and abused.

But these statements weren't meant to be passive, cold assurance that ONE DAY our needs would be met by God and God alone. Jesus meant for us to adopt them into our own character, and to guide our actions. Further, they are the basis for the Kingdom of God, which Jesus inaugurated when he began preaching.

These teachings of Jesus are not far-off ideals, or commands we cannot keep. They are clear, bold challenges that God, through His chosen Spokesman, Jesus, tells us we can achieve.

Later in the Sermon, Jesus will tell us we must be perfect (as in perfectly complete and mature) JUST AS God is perfect. (Matt. 5:48) And, in similar language, says, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you DO them.” (John 13:17)

Jesus assures us that while we won’t be immediately morally complete, that isn’t the expectation of God. He assures us that God forgives us when we forgive others for falling short. (Matt. 6:14-15)

And this hints and the second half of each Beatitude, mirroring the pain, suffering, heartache and troubles we suffer with the comfort and love God gives to us, if we only ask Him for it.

Jesus does not allow us to make God the sole comforter, love-giver, and mercy-bestower. We have work to do, as well. Just as we must forgive others to be forgiven, we are to serve others to be served. 

Following the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us that we are to be the salt and light to the world, and that we must  let our light shine before others, so that they will see our good works, and praise our Father in Heaven. (Matt. 5:13-16)

We are clearly called, therefore, to be the hands of Jesus here on earth, bringing in the Kingdom of God here and now. We must do as Jesus did, and even greater things! (John 14:12)

We may draw hope from these teachings of Jesus, and they are living water for us that we can share with others in our daily lives, being the salt and light our world yearns to see.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

THE SERMON OF SERMONS: What Did Jesus Mean? #JesusFollowers

Is religion practical? Does it make sense? Is it supposed to? Did Jesus teach things he meant for us to follow? Or was he teaching for some other reason?

These are important questions when looking at those "red letters" in the Gospel books - the words Jesus spoke to his disciples and the crowds who heard his teachings.

It's important to know, because we need to understand what Jesus meant if we want to understand who he is, his role in history, and what he means to us in our individual lives.

The book of Matthew (chapters 5 through 7) records Jesus’ words in a famous series of chapters known as the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus went up on a small hill and began preaching, and what he said amazed those who heard it. It amazes us, still.

Jesus' teachings were both shocking and clear to those who heard them; startling statements that challenged those who heard him speak.

He started by teaching about the character that God wishes us to have. In these “beatitudes,” Jesus assures us that God sends blessings of comfort, hope, healing, love, and strength, and that God expects us to seek to have that same character by sharing these blessings.

He says we must become both salt and light – spiritually enriching the world by being great moral examples to it - and that we do this by humbly performing righteous works.

He gives us practical teachings on Law, challenging us not to follow the mere letters in God’s Moral Law, but the spirit these Laws seek to regulate within us. Our attitudes towards oaths, marriage and even our dealings with our enemies, he says, ought to be guided by extremely high ideals, not by shallow obedience alone.

We are to do to others what we want done to us, seek spiritual treasures rather than earthly ones, and in our religious life and in our judgment of others, we ought always be humble. 

But just because this challenging sermon seems so challenging, scholars and churchmen throughout history have questioned whether it REALLY should be taken seriously at all.

For example, some have claimed that Jesus' teachings in this sermon were not meant to be followed by those who heard these words, but instead, Jesus simply meant to show us what we COULD NEVER accomplish, because they believe human beings are too evil and misguided to grasp and obey his teachings.

This seems to make Jesus into a mean-spirited and rather cynical teacher - if one could call someone like that a "teacher" at all. And indeed, most who believe this way don't see him as much of a teacher at all, but as someone who’s just teasing (or "convicting") us with high ideals.

This kind of teacher would seem mean and sadistic in a classroom, and insane standing on a hill claiming to be a religious Teacher from God. A teacher who would teach what we cannot follow (and then teach that we'd be punished by God if we didn't!) would be the worst of teachers.

Of course, Jesus never said his teachings were impossible to follow, so we can reject this view when we hear it.

Others claimed these teachings were a list of Laws for a future Kingdom of God – one we haven’t yet seen, even in the Twenty-first Century. But this, too, is wrong, because Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom was present and active during his First Century ministry. It was then and there, and is here and now, for us to make real on THIS earth, by our actions.

Still others go in the other direction, saying his teachings only applied to the Judeans of Jesus' time, and not to ours (so-called "dispensationalism.") Again, this seems very dismissive of someone who claimed to be God’s spokesman, and said that his words would live forever.

So, where does this leave us? It leaves us with a Teacher who taught us some rather clear, basic principles we were meant to take seriously. Challenging? Yes. Startling? In some cases, yes. All of these teachings require thought, prayer and study on the part of those who seek to know and follow Jesus.

But the one thing we cannot do with Jesus' teachings is to discount them, degrade them, or to explain them away as irrelevant or unimportant.

At the end of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said if we built our faith on the rock of his teachings, and actually put them into practice in our lives, our faith would remain solid when storms came. It would be wise to take his word on this, if we seek to call him our Teacher and Master.