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.