Sunday, May 28, 2017

Making Excuses For Not Showing Up. #JesusFollowers

Would you willingly turn down the chance to be part of something wonderful? Would you give up the opportunity to meet and dine with a famous celebrity, an artist, or some other major world figure? How would that person feel if you declined such an invitation? How would YOU feel if you invited someone to dine and they make a lame excuse for not showing up?

That's the set-up to Jesus' “Parable of the Great Banquet.” Jesus here tells the story (recorded in Luke 14:15-24) of a man who gave “a great banquet, and invited many.” When the banquet was ready, he sent servants out to collect the invited guests. But the guests all gave rather lame excuses why they couldn't come:

One said: “I've bought a field, and I must go out and see it.” Another said he had just bought oxen, “and I must go look at them.” Yet another said he had just married a wife. Lame excuses, for sure.

So the servant came back and told his master what had happened. Then, as the Book of Luke tells it:

“The master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And [later] the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, so my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited shall taste my banquet.”

Are we making excuses for not attending a banquet, too?

When Jesus calls us to join with him in building a Kingdom of Heaven, and challenges us to become perfect and merciful, as God Himself is perfect and merciful, are we accepting that message? Or are we making excuses for why we cannot do such a thing?

Some religious teachers have said that the invited guests who rejected the man giving the banquet (be it God Himself, with Jesus, God's chosen one, acting as his servant here) were the Jewish people of the time. And while many of the Jews reject Jesus – as Jesus himself testified – all did not. So it's an imperfect interpretation.

Of course, the Jewish religious leaders of that era did reject Jesus and his message, and that mirrors what Jesus said repeatedly, especially during his ministry's final weeks, as he came to know they would put him to death.

But the Gospel stories (and the early part of the Book of Acts) portray the people in Judea rushing to Jesus, swarming to hear his teachings, and eagerly clinging to his words.

Are the religious elites today – those who build little kingdoms to honor themselves, rather than God's Kingdom – rejecting the banquet of Jesus' teachings? It could be, and that may be a more honest interpretation of this Parable than hanging it on “the Jews” - then or now.

In Jesus' parable, OTHERS are being sought in place of “those invited.” The religious elites of his day – the same ones who walked coldly by as the man lay injured on the side of the road – couldn't be bothered with Jesus' teachings. It took an outsider, a Good Samaritan, to stop and help the injured man.

Jesus also spoke to a woman drawing water from a well in Samaria, another despised outsider. And Jesus sat and ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and other renegades who needed to hear his teachings. This angered the religious elites who didn't think those people were worthy.

At its core, however, the Parable's central message is that of helping the poor, the outsider, the destitute, instead of the rich and the well connected. That, also is a theme that runs clearly throughout the ministry of Jesus, and his teachings proclaimed it loudly.

Indeed, the Parable is preceded by a story of a wedding feast, in which he warns against taking the best seats, noting that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:15)

And this Banquet Parable is followed by another in which the Costs of Discipleship must be counted, and those who make excuses, or are unwilling to sacrifice “all” for the Kingdom aren't worthy of it. (Luke 14:25-33)

Jesus says the man throwing the banquet in the Parable seeks to totally fill his house. If this “man” is a stand-in for Jesus himself, acting for God, our Creator, it becomes a powerful message that God wishes all of us to crowd into the Kingdom Jesus says must be first built here on earth, “as it is in Heaven” regardless of whomever else is refusing to attend.

Let us start crowding in to this banquet, and invite all others to partake of it!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Teachings of #Jesus Call Us to ACTION! #JesusFollowers

Only those who gain knowledge of the teachings of Jesus and follow him in humility can truly become whole, perfect and complete in Godliness.

Jesus was the perfect example through which we can know and see how God wishes us to act, to live, to relate to others,and even to die.

It is in this context that we can begin to understand the otherwise "difficult" saying of Jesus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6.) The rarely-quoted next verse reads: "If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him."

Seeing and learning from this perfect example of Godly action without acting upon what we've seen and learned would be pointless, and useless, leading only to a dead faith (James 2:20; 26.) We cannot hide our Light, or keep our Good Works to ourselves, but instead, Jesus calls us to spread goodness and light to others (Matt. 5:16.) It is only by action that we spread God's Kingdom upon the face of the earth.

Jesus challenges us to be better than we are, not remain exactly as we were before we met him. The act of following him is meant to transform us; we are to be BORN AGAIN in service and obedience to God, with the example of God's chosen exemplar always before our eyes (John 3:3.)

Jesus didn't ever claim to be God. But he did claim to be Godly, and he was in fact perfectly in tune with God's will. He says of his Father, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:29.)

From his example, we need not look through a "dark glass" seeking vainly for what God wills for our lives. Jesus lays it out clearly, and says we CAN achieve it, and must attempt to do so. And we need not do it alone.

God's servant Jesus teaches that we can rely on God's forgiveness when we falter on this journey, and must as a consequence forgive others who may offend us - in Godly imitation of both God and God's servant, Jesus (Matt. 6:14-15.)

The Good and Beneficial Message proclaimed by Jesus wasn't to simply have mere belief in his existence, but was a call to ACTIVELY serve God, to follow Jesus, and to love others just as we love ourselves (Mark 12:29-31.) His Gospel calls us to serve and act, not sit and contemplate, nor to simply admire Jesus nor even to worship him.

To be Good and Beneficial, the message of Jesus must spread goodness to others, and be beneficial to others. To turn a deaf ear to God's instruction through Jesus is detestable to God (John 9:31; Prov. 28:9.)

When we realize the wonderful gifts God has given all people from birth - but we have not used to benefit others until we knew Jesus - we should feel a great sorrow of realization, followed immediately by great joy that we now know the goal for which we were born, and the Good Works for which God has equipped us!

Jesus is a "Door" and a "Gate" by which we may walk through and glimpse the potential life for which God has equipped us - and has promised to continue to equip us. Let us have the courage to walk through this narrow passageway and enter into spiritually complete and morally useful lives together!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

What if We Served Others First? #JesusFollowers

Does our faith serve others, or just ourselves? Does it seek our own comfort and security, or are we willing to sacrifice ALL for the sake of our Master and our Master's God?

What if everyone put others first in all things? What if all of us, all the time, thought of others' needs and put ourselves in second place?

If all this doesn't sound familiar to you, it should, because this thinking lies at the core of the teaching of Jesus.

If Jesus is the one whom God chose to be our teacher of Righteousness and our perfect example to follow, what he says actually matters.

Jesus taught that we must seek not to be first, or the Greatest among others, but instead to be the last, putting others first.

Jesus told a parable saying that we must not seek to give the most important and most visible public seats to alleged VIPs, but instead, we ought to let others, including the poor and "unimportant" sit in the best places. God doesn't make distinctions among people, and neither should we.

When some of his disciples asked to be given honors, he said that the first would be last and the last would be made first.

Jesus made it clear, speaking to the disciples,  "whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave." Jesus says he made his life a ransom for many, giving all to others. We, he said, must do the same.

Jesus says we must love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and treat others as we wish to be treated.
We ought to head Jesus' teachings, then, and seek to treat everyone equally, putting others first, and our desires second.

It's clear that Jesus calls us all to a life of action and Good Works. Every one of our actions in our daily lives should show to others how God wishes humanity to relate to one another and to our Creator.
God wishes us to be holy, just as God is holy, merciful, just as God is merciful, and righteous, just as God is righteous.

Jesus says he did all that God commanded him to do, and calls us to always seek to do the same.

He didn't think it demeaning to serve the disciples by washing their feet. Serving each other is the pattern our exemplar, Jesus, gave us to follow. It's not too hard for us, it's not just a model to admire, and he gave us this example not to make us feel insignificant and unworthy, but to prove the greatness to which we all may aspire.

By taking up the challenge of seeking to emulate Jesus in all things, we compliment God, Who gave us this challenging Good News, and Who made us capable of accepting it and doing as He wishes us to do.

God wishes us to put others first, and his chosen son, Jesus, is the proof that we can seek to do it. Let's get busy, then, serving and loving our neighbors!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

What Is Our True Nature? #JesusFollowers

A minister on the radio said this week that we humans are all "condemned criminals" in need of "radical surgery." Holy mixed metaphors, Batman! Not only was that metaphor a language crime, it was theologically criminal, as well!

Fortunately for us, he is wrong. In fact, Jesus teaches just the opposite. Jesus, just like the Hebrew prophets before him, consistently taught that we are all free to choose either to do right or do evil, and that we would be responsible for those choices when we stand before God.

Let us quickly dispense with the idea that we are all condemned criminals. The only ones who say this have no idea of the vast mercy of our Heavenly Father, or are deliberately hiding this wonderful fact.

Of course, what the pastor is really trying to imply is that we were born under an imaginary curse, making us unable to do any good, and that we are therefore born already condemned in the sight of God.

This is scripturally and logically nonsense.

That God made us free to choose and liable for our choices is one of the best attested facts of scripture - both the Hebrew scriptures and the words of our Master, Jesus, whom God chose to be our example and teacher in all things.

To claim that we are so damaged that we can do no good; that we cannot follow Jesus and do as he calls us to do, is to make excuses for our failure to obey. Not to mention, it makes Jesus into an unreasonable master, for commanding what cannot be done by us, and that would mean that God knows we cannot do it, but had Jesus tell us to do these impossible tasks anyway.

If God did this, He would be the author of our sins, and an unfair judge. He would be responsible for our actions and not us if we were unable by are very nature to obey what He and his chosen son have laid out before us. It would also mean that Jesus was a liar, and his teachings a mockery, too.

Without freedom of Will and freedom to act there can be no judgement by God. But the good news is that we were created with the ability to choose which makes our choices have meaning and good really can mean good and not just a forced choice made by a domineering God.

The Hebrew Bible is filled with examples of God giving us a free will and the freedom to choose. The story of Adam and Eve is all about our Free Will and ability to choose, and the Jewish people have always understood it that way.

Adam's poor choice didn't damage his children nor his descendants ability to choose right from wrong. God is portrayed as even portrayed as showing Adam"s own son, Cain, that he had the free choice to do right or to do wrong and to take the consequences of either choice.

King David is shown in scripture as sinning and doing evil deeds, but he repented, and God forgave him. He says in the Psalms that he stood after his repentance before God with clean hands and with righteous actions.

Isaiah teaches that we are to wash ourselves and make ourselves clean. If we are totally unable to do good, then what could this possibly mean?

Therefore it abundantly clear that the Hebrew scriptures teach nothing else except that we have the ability to act and to do good and fact are called by God to do exactly that.

Jesus, also, teaches us that God wishes us to have willing hearts and to follow the path of righteousness willingly. We are, like King David, able to repent of our past mistakes, and to stop doing them, as in the story of the woman caught in adultery demonstrates. Jesus said, "Go, and sin no more." No radical surgery was required, simply a determination to repent to do good, instead.

The kingdom of God is built through our deliberate righteous actions and good works, done in accordance with the teachings of our Master, Jesus.

The minister's statement about "radical surgery" is another theological falsehood. While our wills may have been damaged by our past actions, that can no way mean that we have no ability to turn our lives around by reaching out to God and repenting. Jesus teaches that all may repent, and indeed must repent, of past mistakes that are a falling short of the high standards God wishes for all of us.

And again, all the Hebrew Prophets and Jesus taught that sincere repentance is all that is required of us to begin turning our lives around toward godliness.

The Gospel that Jesus preached is a challenge to reach our full potential - how God wishes us to live our lives. The Gospel itself is a challenge. The fact that many do not know that it is a challenge, and are unaware that Jesus' Gospel is fully contained in his words, doesn't make them criminals sentenced to death eternally, it makes them imperfect, because they are not following God's perfect path of righteousness, have not taught them this.

Those who are living imperfect lives don't need radical surgery as much as they need a radical reassessment of their lives. And they should be informed at that there is a better way: to live their lives in accordance with God's will.

And those who are living an easy faith without challenge, who believe that good works are impossible (or something that we need not even concern ourselves with) miss the point of Jesus' teachings. And actually tend to warp them beyond all recognition.

These ministers, and their flocks, perhaps need a radical new faith, based on the challenging, joyful teachings of our Master, Jesus, who says emphatically that we are capable of doing all that he asks us to do and that we may do all that he has done. THAT is the True Gospel message.

Knowing that Jesus pleased God in every way, and said we may do the same, shows that God and the one He chose as our example have far higher confidence in us human beings then the ministers do.