Sunday, July 31, 2016

Our Life's Mission Is To Seek Godliness #JesusFollowers

Jesus does not tell us that our lives are to be wasted simply waiting for death, but he instead clearly says what all God's prophets had said: that we are to fill our lives with righteous action.

And Jesus tells and shows us that our lives are an opportunity to make the world a better place, a chance to bring the Kingdom of God into this world by our righteous acts, done with humility. (Matt. 4:17; 5:16; 6:1; 6:10)

We aren't called by Jesus to judge others' lives, and how they respond to the opportunity Jesus offers us. (Luke 6:37; Isaiah 33:22)

Nor should we arrogantly judge ourselves worthy of eternity with God based on our works, or even our vain words or confessions. It is God alone who judges us all. We are called to simply act, and praise God for the life we have been given in which to act.

The world is God's, and all that is in it (Psalm 24:1) and we were created in God's image, being, therefore, a reflection of the divine. (Gen. 9:6) So, we are called by Jesus to mirror God's holiness in all that we do. "Be holy, for I am holy," says God in Leviticus. (19:2)

God calls us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. This is God's challenge to show to others all the love God shows to others. (Matt. 22:37-39; Deut. 6:5)

We are called upon to be merciful and compassionate, just as God is, (Luke 6:36) and to grow into perfect maturity, just as God is perfectly mature in His ways. We must be forgiving of others, says Jesus, if we expect God's forgiveness. (Matt. 7:14-15)

Jesus himself showed that this is possible, doing all the things that God told him to do, and becoming a perfect reflection of how God wishes us to live. (John 8:29; 14:31) Jesus was the man chosen and anointed by God to show us the way of God, and to be our perfect example and pattern of what God wants us to become. (Luke 4:18; John 13:15)

Let's commit ourselves to walk along a Highway of Holiness (Isaiah 35:8) doing all we can to seek to follow the path Jesus set for us to walk in his steps.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Living Water From The Well of Jesus! #JesusFollowers

The Fourth Gospel tells us that Jesus was passing through Samaria around noon and was weary from his journey. Sitting beside a well, a woman from Samaria came to draw water from it. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."

The shocked Samaritan woman said, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (she said this because Jews didn't usually have dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered, offering her "living water," saying "Everyone who drinks of THIS water (in the well) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water." (John 4:7-15)

Jesus does all that his Father, our God, tells us to do, and he perfectly represents our God among us. Yahweh, our God, says Jeremiah, is the source of this Living Water (17:13) and Jesus tells us that the living water that lives through his words and teachings are what saves us, directing us towards - "welling up to" - eternal life with this God.

In Jesus' acts of service and generosity, we can see over and over again the spirit God wishes us to have. Jesus lived as a servant of all, and poured out his living blood throughout his life, as well as his blood at death, as a spiritual lesson for us.

The Fourth Gospel is a spiritual book, and its author writes spiritually about Spiritual Truths. Jesus tells us we may "drink in" his teachings, his example, and his life lessons. We make them our own when we actually do them.

Jesus prayed to God for strength, and for wisdom. This too, is an example we may follow, seeking from God strength, wisdom and guidance. If we ask for wisdom in all we do, he will guide us on the right path. (James 1:5; Prov. 3:6)

Once we have drunk in this living water, it's not enough to simply sit still, but it must nourish our spirits and spur us on to do the Good Works Jesus says God requires of us. Of much has been given, much is required of us. (Luke 12:48) And Jesus teaches us that the Kingdom of God begins NOW, in this time, in our lives, and that we must be up and building it. (Luke 17:21)

We are called to not hide our light, but to instead let it shine forth so that all others may benefit from our example. (Matthew 7: That light is the light implanted within us by God at our births.

This is the same innocence and beauty Jesus refers to when he tells his disciples to allow children to come to him, and says we, too, should reflect such purity and innocence in order to be worthy of the Kingdom of God. (Mark 10:14)

Just as our bodies are composed of water from our birth, God has implanted goodness within us - good and holy waters - from our birth. We are called to use these living waters within us to water the world with Goodness.

And just as the woman at the well would be able to ask for the waters Jesus offered from God our Father to nourish her spirit, we may also ask God for continual waters of wisdom to wash over us continually, nourishing our spirits.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Are We Broken? #JesusFollowers

Are we broken people? Are human beings born broken, or did we get that way later on? Are we capable of doing good things, or are we doomed to go through life broken, and alone?

Our experience tells us that we aren't complete, that our lives aren't all they should be. Our intuition tells us that we need to be seeking that completeness. That is a sign that we aren't fully broken, but are built to seek something better.

Our lives often seem to be broken images of what we should be. We don't seek after goals because we don't have perfect goals in front of us. We are often shaken and damaged by our circumstances, and our reaction to our struggles, frankly, is often to retreat inside ourselves and hide.

Some claim that we are born unable to seek the goodness. But our hearts tell us that we should seek it, that we must seek it, and that we are able to do it, because God created us able to do it. (Deut. 30:14)

God is complete. We know that we're not God, but we know that God is also within us, a part of what we ARE, urging us to seek Godliness in our lives.

God chose a spokesman, Jesus, who was human, exactly as we are. God chose this human being to be our example in all things, teaching us how to become complete, as God wishes us to be.

Jesus says for us to be perfectly mature and complete, just as God is perfectly mature and complete. (Matt. 5:48) Those are powerful words, and the fact that he spoke them to fellow human beings means that this is what we can do. Especially when Jesus says that he does everything God wishes him to do, and that WE, TOO, can do all that Jesus did.

This is remarkable and amazing news, since it tells us that those promptings of the heart and mind to seek God are real.

It tells us that those promptings are legitimate, and true, and that we are capable of turning to God and seeking God's perfection in our lives.

Perfection doesn't mean we all should seek to look alike, or that we must be able do every mundane task perfectly, without mistakes. It doesn't mean we get to brag about being 'perfect' to others, because this alone shows we haven't achieved it. And we can't achieve perfection by simply saying that we've achieved it, or by re-defining it as an object we can claim by our words alone.

It also doesn't mean that we are going to be perfect TODAY, or that we won't continue to miss the mark - that high goal that Jesus set for us.

But it does mean that we have hope. If Jesus did it, and he was human like us, that truly means that we can do it, too! It means that we aren't doomed to be mediocre, or halfway human. It means that to be human means to seek after Godliness.

At its core, the Good News that Jesus taught was that we can turn to God and find a better, more whole and complete way of living by seeking not our own gratification, but seeking the welfare and wholeness of those around us.

Service to others completes us. Loving those who need love brings us the purpose and completeness we've been seeking on our own.

And just as God chose Jesus at his baptism to be God's spokesman on earth, God seeks us to be baptized and spread this Good News to others throughout the earth.

To seek this way means to build up God's Kingdom right here on earth. It means we recognize our true nature and that we find our purpose in this life: to love God with all our hearts, minds, soul and strength and understanding, and love and serve our neighbors as ourselves. Eternal life with God begins now, in obedience to Jesus' teachings.

Those who are seeking to become more perfect and mature are called upon to help others join them. That is the Church. The Church that Jesus established is most basically an organization to build more mature and perfected people, so that we may serve others and bring wholeness to others - and that is the only message Jesus taught us.

Any message that adds to this basic one doesn't build the Kingdom, but instead builds individual 'kingdoms' of men, and the only person we must hear is the one who was chosen by God to teach us how to live: Jesus.

So, let us embrace this message and let others know this Good News about our brokenness: we were not born broken, and we can seek to be perfectly whole in Jesus' example!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

THE PARABLES: Is Our Faith Built On A Rock, Or Sand? #JesusFollowers

Could a familiar parable of Jesus actually be teaching the opposite of what most pastors teach us about our Good Works and Eternal Life?

Jesus taught his disciples, and all others who came to hear him, using simple stories – parables – that, despite being simple and relatable, also tended to shock those who heard them.

To read the parable of the house built on the rock with new eyes and fresh ears may be shocking to many Christians who are used to hearing a rather watered-down interpretation. Viewing this parable in its clear form is uncomfortable to hear, and perhaps that’s why it and its messages is avoided or touched on so lightly by today’s pastors.

Jesus says: “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. 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. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27/ESV)

Faith on the Rock means that good works – DOING what Jesus tells us to do in his teachings – actually matters, and are required for entry into the Kingdom. This flies in the face of much teaching from today’s Pastors, but Jesus’ words are clear, and can mean nothing else.

The parable cannot simply mean “right belief” or the mere assent to man-made doctrines. Jesus elsewhere condemns "vain words/empty phrases" (Matt. 5:7) and in a verse just previous to this story, we are told by Jesus that not all those who simply shout, "Lord, Lord" but do not follow his commands will enter into the Kingdom.  But only “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21)

And just so that he was clear – and that by “the Kingdom” we would understand that he was referring also to Eternal Life – Jesus elsewhere answered the question, “what must I do to obtain eternal life,” with clarity: Obey God’s commandments. (Mark 10:17-19; Matt. 19:16-17; Luke 18:19-21)

Mere belief in a set of theological statements or accepting stories ABOUT Jesus is not all God asks of us.

And in truth, Jesus taught that our Eternal Life begins HERE, with the earthly establishment of God’s Kingdom. (Matt. 6:10) Our final destination with God, however, is judged by God alone, and it is according to our Works alone, though we do not judge or own fitness for Heaven. (Psalm 62:12; James 4:12; Matt. 7:1; 16:27)

Jesus himself in this parable says we must “DO” the will of God, our Father, by obeying Jesus’ commands, or we will not be fit for God’s Kingdom.  Jesus tells us he did ALL things our Father and his Father, God, told him to do; and he assures us that we, too, may do all that he did. Therefore, he is our perfect example and model in all things.

We, today, cannot avoid or explain away this or any other message our Master tells us, even if it makes us uncomfortable or challenges us to do Good Works and serve others, just as Jesus did.

If we claim we love Jesus, but choose NOT to hear AND DO what he says, we've built our lives on shifting sands, not the Rock of his words. (1 John 2:4) We honor Jesus with our hearts and minds and actions, therefore, when we seek to do what he modeled for us to do with his life and teachings.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

THE PARABLES – The Good Samaritan: Go, and Do The Same! #JesusFollowers

Jesus taught his disciples, and all others who came to hear him, using simple stories – parables – that, despite being simple and relatable, also tended to shock those who heard them.

Jesus uses the story of the Good Samaritan to teach his fellow countrymen, the “Chosen people,” about the salvation God offers to all, and what is required of those who seek it.

This familiar story therefore teaches important Truths, both for those who first heard it, and even for us, today.

Jesus is asked by a lawyer/scribe what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus immediately directs his attention to the moral Law of the Hebrew Bible, and the questioner recites, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replied, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

When the lawyer went on to ask, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan: 

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do the same.”

The story was shocking because the “hero” of the story was an outcast, someone in the land of Samaria who wasn't part of the “in” class of Judea. And yet, this despised Samaritan knew enough of God’s Law – His Will for our lives – to treat the traveler in distress in a holy and humane manner.

Today, many who feel themselves part of the “in” class feel no requirement to help those they walk by, along the highway of life.  By reciting a prayer, or a creed, they believe themselves to be “chosen” or the “Elect of God,” considering themselves “saved” and “heaven-bound.” They believe themselves to be released from Jesus’ call for us to do Good Works, which they see as unnecessary for their eternal salvation.

But Jesus disagrees with this approach to eternity and Works, as his answer to the lawyer shows.

Jesus calls on us to follow God’s Moral Law with our actions, not just vain words of “Lord, Lord,” walking by those in need with cold indifference.

Jesus instead would have us actively do Good Works as an example and light to the world.

We are called upon by Jesus to, “Go, and do the same.” To “Go” and “Do” are the two most powerful lessons Jesus ever taught. In fact, he repeatedly calls on those who follow him to action: to love and serve others, to deny ourselves, to seek to do righteousness, and to build on solid rock of Righteous action.

And because we have the example of a human being, Jesus, we know we are capable of doing all that God asks us.

Picking up a cross, going the extra mile, expanding our 'talents' to serve others, and being the Good Samaritan cannot mean a life of leisure and ease. It is a call to action.

The Samaritan is the hero of the story – rather than the priest or the Levite – because he took action to help the man in need. He viewed the man, this stranger, as his neighbor, and as a child of God, who was worthy of being helped. Jesus tells us God wishes us to love others in the same way. “Go, and do the same.”

The Gospel of Jesus is not simply to have a belief in him, it is to serve God, to follow Jesus, and to love others just as we love ourselves. His teachings call us to serve and to act, not to sit in vain contemplation of the acts of Jesus, nor to simply admire Jesus, nor even to worship him from afar.

The message of the Good Samaritan is that we are to be the hands and words and comforting arms of God's Kingdom here on Earth. We are called by Jesus to be a People of God, like the Good Samaritan who comforts others alongside the road of life who are distressed, and do so in the name of God's Anointed servant, Jesus.

Picture: The Good Samaritan by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1851-60