Sunday, March 31, 2019

12 Ways #Jesus Challenges Us to Be Better! #JesusFollowers

Jesus' ministry was a call to humanity to come back to God, our Creator. That’s not a minor thing, nor is it a call that can leave us unchanged.

In fact, while we may come to God “as we are,” we cannot remain unchanged after approaching our Heavenly Father, Who is our Creator.

God chose Jesus, adopted him, and sent him out to preach His Truth.

Jesus’ ministry calls us to make changes to our life, as well as to humbly approach God in repentance. Without action on our part, starting with repentance, we aren’t truly returning to God, but simply SAYING we are.

Jesus calls us to be better people. Mere belief is not enough, but is only the start of our Faith. If we say we love Jesus, we will keep his commands (John 14:15.)

Those who claim to know him, but don’t believe his commands are worth following, or are “irrelevant” or are superseded by another person’s teachings, are liars, and don’t really know Jesus at all (1 John 2:4.)

Here, then, are a few (not all) of the commands Jesus gives those who say they follow him:

1. Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30.) That’s complete and total love, not just lip service or emotionalism.

2. Jesus calls us to love each other, our neighbors, with the same zeal with which we love God – complete and total love (Mark 12:31.) And all people are our neighbors.

3. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves take up our cross and follow him. (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23.) We are to be “other-centered,” not focused on Self.

4. Jesus calls on us to do the will of the Father – His God and our God, the Creator of all that is (Matt. 12:50; John 5:30.) Mere words and vain professions are NOT enough to ensure eternity with God (Matt. 7:21.)

5. Jesus calls on us to forgive others, and makes this duty a condition of being forgiven by God (Matt. 6:15-16.)

6. Jesus tells us we must repent of our sins. “Repent,” he says, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17.) Repent means to feel sorry about our sins, and work to stop sinning.

7. Jesus calls on us to “go the second mile” (Matthew 5:38–42) which is not a challenge to be lukewarm or partially committed to serving others.

8. Jesus says we must lay up heavenly treasures, not earthly ones that don’t last (Matthew 5:44–46.) The race for wealth doesn’t last, but our rewards in Heaven do.

9. Jesus tells us to be a “light to the world” and that we must let our Good Works “shine” so that others may see God’s righteousness manifest in us (Matt. 5:14-16.)

10. Jesus calls on us to choose the “narrow gate” that leads to God and salvation, rather than the “wide gate” that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14.) The popular way, the easy way of “faith alone” and the way that requires the least work isn’t the way Jesus calls us to approach God.

11. Jesus calls us to “do to others that which you would have done unto you” (Matt 7:12.) This “Golden Rule” has been ignored, demeaned and ridiculed by modern Christendom, but it’s at the core of Jesus’ preaching.

12. Jesus calls on us to follow him (Matt. 4:19.) Jesus sets for us a perfect example of how to live our lives (John 13:15.) We have the ability to serve God through Jesus’ moral commands (Matt. 5:48) strengthened always through God’s spirit and Jesus’ holy example.

Let us take up the challenge Jesus puts before us!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

7 Hard Truths Christians Need To Hear (Part 2) #JesusFollowers

The teachings of Jesus seem almost quaint and old fashioned to some ministers. (When was the last time his command to “Do unto others” was taught from a pulpit, not to mention “When you do Good Works!?)

They are rarely preached, and aren’t emphasized as much as later teachers’ words. Why is that? Jesus, after all, is our Master, and if we believe he is our Master, ought his teachings be the CORE and the center of our Faith in God, Who sent Jesus out to preach? 

Let’s continue to examine some hard truths that Christians seem to need to hear again:

4) Praising Jesus' name without obeying his teachings means you don't actually love him  

This Sunday, in churches around the world, the name of Jesus will be chanted and evoked as if it was a magic spell. While there is nothing wrong with thanking God for choosing Jesus as our perfect moral example in all things, and praising God Himself for our existence and the existence of this beautiful creation, if we raise our hands in PRAISE OF JESUS while in Church, we must then become the very HANDS OF JESUS when we leave the Church building. And in fact, Jesus himself clearly states that simply chanting, "Lord, Lord" but refusing to follow his teachings is not acceptable (Matt. 7:21) 

We must instead obey God, and Jesus calls us to put his teachings into practice, lest we build our houses of faith on the shifting sands of mere words, empty praise or a false assurance in our own eternal salvation. (Matt. 7:24)

His clear teachings, which call on us to perform Good Works, to seek heavenly treasures rather than earthly ones, to pray and act righteously without doing so just to be seen by others, to actively serve others, especially the poor, to turn the other cheek, to love and pray for enemies, and to go the extra mile in all that we do, HAVE NEVER BEEN CHANGED. Nor can we explain them away or minimize their importance, or allow others to do so. 

5) Righteousness and Sinfulness CANNOT be inherited.  

Jesus tells us that there is no substitute for DOING righteousness. Righteousness is always stated by Jesus as something we must DO, just as it was in all the other books of the Hebrew Bible. It cannot be inherited from another, even Jesus. Our own acts must be our own, and our own righteousness is required from us. God, through the Prophet Isaiah, tells us (1:16) "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good." 

Ezekiel (18:20-21) says: “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die." We alone are responsible for our own sins and good deeds. 

Jesus says we are judged not by our words, not by our intentions (and certainly not by another's) but by our own ACTS and DEEDS, and them alone. God expects us to obey his moral commands, as Jesus repeated consistently.

He said that no one else would be charged with our disobedience, and no other would be responsible for our actions except ourselves. The life that Jesus calls on us to pursue in his Gospel is a life of works, action, radical love and service to others.

6) Salvation isn't "faith alone," nor our "works alone" but it's God alone who judges our worthiness for salvation.  

For centuries, clever men have enjoyed taking the words of Jesus and ripping out a phrase here and there, and proclaiming that ONLY belief in Jesus is necessary for eternal salvation. Of course, this does the words of Jesus and his Gospel a grave injustice, because it is not what he taught. In truth, belief - in Jesus' plan of repentance and righteousness, not just belief "in" him - is only a first step in our Faith, and Jesus always portrays it as such. 

Simply professing belief, without accompanying that belief with active Good Works, is worthless. (James 2:19) Jesus, in the only time he was asked explicitly how one achieves eternal life, answered, "You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" (Mark 10:17-19) That is the Gospel message of Jesus - obedience to God's moral Law. 

But it must be said, we cannot do WORKS ALONE without Faith, because our Faith is based on the teachings and example of Jesus.

Without a faith in Jesus grounded in following his teachings, carrying his cross and holding his message in our hearts daily, we have no idea what "works" to do, nor how to do them.

Since Jesus pleased God with all he did (John 14:12) we ought to hold his example before us at all times. We must strive to enter the "narrow door" of Salvation (Luke 13:24) humbly allowing GOD ALONE to be our ONLY judge of worthiness. 

7) If we claim to follow Jesus, we give up the right to be selfish and life for ourselves.  

Jesus taught that being selfish was wrong, and to serve others - even before ourselves - is our mission here in this life. Going the extra mile, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, comforting the sick, are all simple, clear teachings of our Master. 

We are called to be servants of others, and that we will be rewarded with Heaven - closeness to God forever - if we obey God's will for our lives, which was purely exemplified by Jesus' life. 

The best way to show that we are followers of Jesus is by showing love towards, and serving, others. Jesus says we must deny our SELVES, taking up our crosses daily, and love one another, just as he loved us. (Luke 9:23; John 15:12) If we call Jesus our friend and Master, we will do all that he asks us to do. 

He calls us to love and care for others without reservation, selflessly, and in all purity.

Let's go do that!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

7 Hard Truths Christians Need To Hear (Part 1) #JesusFollowers

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 profound.
If we understand this, we will 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 little importance.

Many of man's clever words give birth to man-made doctrines that turn Jesus' religion toxic. Let’s begin to examine some hard truths modern Christians need to hear about what they’ve been taught that aren't consistent with the teachings of the one they claim to call "Master."

1) A Faith in Jesus actually means following his teachings. 
Churches rarely focus on them – and in fact, sometimes rarely speak them from the pulpit or TV screen – but the teachings of Jesus aren't just the core of the Gospel, they ARE the Gospel. In his Great Commission, Jesus called those who followed him to go out into the world telling people to obey ALL that he taught them. (Matt. 28:20) When Jesus says "Take up your cross daily and follow me," (Matt. 16:24) he's calling us to join him on a journey of joyful obedience, love, and service, one just as he embarked upon.

But if we do not seek to follow his words, if we claim these words and teachings are too hard for us, impossible for "mere" humans, not necessary for our salvation, or not relevant for us today, then we are not really following Jesus, but other men's teachings. In fact, we HATE him if we reject, warp or minimize his teachings. It's clear from all of these sayings of Jesus, that he believed being called a follower of Jesus, or having faith in him, meant that we are to following his teachings.

2) Prayer doesn't put God to work granting our wishes, it puts us to work serving others.  
Many Christians want God to be our magic genie, our butler and our doorman, and He cannot be any of these. And even as Jesus consistently preached that we should desire spiritual things and not earthly treasures (Matt. 6:19-20; Luke 12:33) many Christians pray to God for new cars, more money, a promotion and for an end to sickness and pain. That’s witchcraft, not faith in God. We should be seeking God’s help to overcome adversity, endure suffering, avoid temptation, and grow stronger from all that the world sends our way, and speak to God about all things and all of our troubles and concerns.

When King David prayed to God, he prayed seeking to be renewed and for his soul to be restored (Psalm 23:3) and acknowledged that it was God Who would lead him towards righteousness. This is just as it should be. Through the example of Jesus, the one God has anointed as His Spokesman, we know that God wishes us to seek Him in prayer for spiritual, not material, things. Let us pray with honor and respect to the One Who created us and has the ability to give us all the spiritual help we need from his vast spiritual storehouse.

3) If you're waiting for God to clothe, house and feed you, you're doing the Gospel backwards.  
Are we fully prepared to face all of life's challenges? We can be. But we can't if we're paralyzed by the thought that we don't have the "right" opportunities before us. Some people are waiting for God to act, to "open a door," to make things "right" for us so we can finally be the people God wishes us to be. They wait, sometimes a lifetime, for God to "put the right person" into their lives, either a mate or a boss or a benefactor.

But we should stop waiting, and start acting. Because Jesus, the one He chose and sent to us as a teacher, tells us God does not show favoritism among people, and the scriptures teach us that He does not accept bribes to do our bidding for us (Deut. 10:17.) Jesus calls us to a life of Good Works, done in humility and compassion. (Matt. 5:16; 6:5)

Service to others leads to spiritual completeness. (Matt. 5:48) “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me" (Matt. 25:36.) We are called to serve others' needs. That's how God's Kingdom becomes established here on earth.

Let's be about our Father's business and do as Jesus calls us to do!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

#Jesus: A Practical Preacher And Fitting Example #JesusFollowers

Jesus was a preacher of repentance and righteousness. He made known the love of God and declared the mercy of God to a guilty world; but at the same time, he insisted that without repentance there can be no salvation. (Luke 13:3-5.) God sent him to bless mankind; but it was by turning them from their iniquities. (Acts 3:26.)

He declared that a leading object of his mission was to call sinners to repentance. (Mark 2:17.) To deny the efficacy of repentance would be to render the mission of Jesus a nullity.

In his Sermon on the Mount he appears altogether in the character of a practical preacher.

He taught that to do the will of God, and seek to be like Him, is the only way to gain admittance into his kingdom, that the condition of forgiveness is our forgiving others, and that the man who hears his sayings and doeth them builds on a good foundation, that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees or we shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (See Matt. 5, 6 & 7.)

When he upbraided the cities in which most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not, he spoke of their impenitence as the sole cause of their destruction, Chap. 11:20-24.

He taught that men will be accepted or rejected according to the use they make of the talents entrusted to their care; that when brought to judgment, they will be received to glory, or doomed to punishment, according to their works (Chapter 25.) Throughout his ministry he taught men to expect salvation, and every blessing, on the ground of the love, mercy and favor of God, solely on the terms of repentance and obedience to the Gospel.

He accepted those as his nearest relatives who did the will of his heavenly Father. Mark 3:35. When a young man inquired of him what he must do to inherit eternal life, he directed him to keep the commandments of God. chap 10:19. He informed the lawyer who tempted him that if he kept the commandments he should live. (Luke 10:25-28.)

Jesus represented God as accepting penitent sinners, on the ground of his free mercy, just as a compassionate father would his offending child when he saw him turn from his folly. (Luke 15.)

He said to his disciples if you know these things happy are you if you do them: (John 13:17) which implies that happiness can be attained only by obedience. He taught them that they should continue accepted if they continued in his word, and that if they did not they should be rejected. (Chap. 15:1-8.)

The Gospel is undoubtedly a system of divine mercy and grace, but in this system conditions are certainly comprehended. The conditions are repentance, faith, and obedience. Without a compliance with these conditions sinners cannot be saved.

We have redemption in Jesus as we have it in his Gospel: he came and revealed it, he lost his life in making it known, he is appointed by the Father to dispense it, and we enjoy it so far as we conform to his teaching and example, so that we should not henceforth live to ourselves, in the gratification of our evil passions and desires, but to him, in obedience to his Gospel, and in the imitation of his example, especially of that generous love which he manifested in laying down his life for the good of men.

Jesus can be an example to us only so far as he was like us in nature, state and circumstances, or as we are capable of becoming like him. Had he never suffered, he could not have been an example to us in suffering: Had he not died he could not have been an example to us in dying. Had he not perfectly obeyed he could not have been an example of perfect obedience.

But now by his death, his character is perfected, his qualifications are completed, his testimony is finished, his obedience is tried and, found perfect, he received a glorious reward, and we have a suitable and perfect example of every excellency attainable by us.

(By Richard Wright in “The Anti-Satisfactionist, 1805)

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Prodigal Son and God's Merciful Justice #JesusFollowers #parables

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus teaches us that we are to rejoice and be accepting of those among us who return after wronging us. The parable also teaches us that God is ready and waiting for those who return to the path of righteousness.

In the parable, a son asks for his inheritance early and goes away, only to squander it on lustful living. He exhausts his money and returns to his father's house, seeking a job as a servant. But the father, even before he reaches his gate, runs out to greet him, and immediately forgiving him, prepares a feast for him.

In this way, Jesus teaches us to endlessly and without hesitation forgive others, in the same way God forgives those who return to him in repentance. When asked how many times we must forgive others, Jesus said "70 times 7 times."

Our repentance for our sins - just as the boy who return to his father - satisfies any Justice God requires for transgressing his moral Law, because God is not a monster, but a loving Parent who wants us to live in peace with Him and with our fellow human beings.

Mercy is given by God to those who ask for forgiveness and accept it. That's the contract; that's the "price" to be paid, just as the price the Prodigal Son paid was returning to his father in humility.

The first and most solemn declaration of God to Moses (Exodus 34:6-7) is that of "God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering - forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin." David constantly prays for the pardon of sin, for God's "mercy's sake," (Psalms 44:26) and finds forgiveness for his sins upon repentance, living thereafter with "clean hands" before God (2 Samuel 22:21.) In the story of Jonah, that God is shown to be merciful to Nineveh if only they repented from their sins (Jonah 4:1.)

But the way that Forgiveness, Justice and Mercy are understood by many Christians would force us to radically re-tell the parable, because, like Jonah, some Christians are very angry that God so easily forgives.

Seeking inspiration not from Jesus' teachings, but from angry medieval lawyers and kings, they have created, and spread, a doctrine of God's Justice that is the enemy of God's Mercy. It is a doctrine in which God CANNOT simply forgive without a blood sacrifice - someone MUST pay the "price" for a sin.

But God's mercy is NOT the enemy of God's forgiveness. Both exist in equal measure in the heart of our loving God, Who is eager to forgive us upon our repentance alone.

In their telling of the story, it must be re-written, so that the Prodigal Son's vengeful father would stop the boy at his gates and then demand that his eldest son be slaughtered in order to satisfy the sins of the youngest who sinned against his father. Only then, when the elder son's blood was spilled, would the payment be accepted.

This may have been a perfectly reasonable way to achieve justice in the ancient world, but if we put our belief solely in Jesus' teachings, and not in other mens', we know that this is not how God shows Mercy OR Justice.  While we may decide that some people do not deserve God's mercy, and must first "pay a price" for falling short of His high standards, God does not condemn based on our whims or theories about who is "in" and who is "out" of his loving embrace, either now or eternally.

"I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," God tells Moses. "And I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." (Exodus 33:19)

In the parable, even when the son "was yet a great way off," the father ran to meet him, and "fell upon his neck and kissed him" (Luke 15:20.) When Jesus calls us to forgive others as God has forgiven us, does that mean we have a duty to exact a blood payment from those whom WE wish to forgive? The opposite is true. We must forgive 70x7 times, joyfully and without hesitation.

God cannot be held to our human standards of how Justice and Mercy should work. And we should be extremely grateful for that.