Sunday, January 31, 2021

Don't Believe In A Lesser Gospel! #JesusFollowers

Are we reaching our full potential as human beings? Most of us would say we definitely aren’t.

And that's even before the question is clarified so that it's clear that the question here doesn't refer to our potential financial situation, or our potential in our working lives, nor our full potential physically.

No, it refers to our full spiritual potential as human beings. And of course, our answer is still probably, no.

Jesus, the man whom God anointed at baptism as his only son and our example in all things, believed that we COULD reach our full human potential. And he demonstrated it with his life.

In fact, Jesus spoke often about our ability and our ne
ed to do Good in serving others, and even claimed that our perfection was possible.

And given the clarifications we've already mentioned, you can guess that this perfection doesn't deal with our hair, our job situation, or the amount of money in our bank accounts.

And of course human potential here does not refer to our physical abilities to compete in races on the track, or even earn high scores on exams.

No, this “perfection” meant moral completeness. And all throughout his ministry, Jesus specifically addressed our need to become morally and spiritually perfect, just as God is perfect.

And he made it abundantly clear to his disciples, and through his eternally living words, to us, that we have the awesome responsibility to follow in his footsteps – the footsteps of someone who pleased his Creator in all things.

The Bible teaches that we are created in the very image of God. We need to take that seriously, not lightly. Because God calls us to be more than just the dust in the ground from which we sprang.

Even though we do remain flawed beings, and make bad choices at times, those bad choices are not to be confused with our human Nature. God tells us what our Nature is, and Jesus through his perfect life shows us what a perfect life is supposed to look like, and what it CAN look like.

And what does this perfect (complete) life look like? What is God's will for our lives? We don't need to guess. Jesus told us explicitly with his words, and then showed us with his life:

We are to be holy as God is holy. We are to be perfect, as God is perfect. We are to be merciful, just as God is merciful. (Lev. 11:44; Matt. 5:48; Luke 6:36)

We are to deny ourselves, and to serve others before ourselves. We are to go the extra mile in that service, and give the shirts off our backs, if necessary. Not only clothe the naked, but comfort the afflicted, visit the sick and the prisoner, and help the stranger on the side of the road we don't know. (Matt 5-7, 25)

These are tall orders. But they are our marching orders, if we want to claim we are following Jesus as our Master.

And we need to understand up front what kind of marching orders are.

Jesus repeatedly said we are to obey his teachings, if we claim to love him. They are not something we can dispense with because they're inconvenient or seem hard. They must be central to our faith, daily.

Jesus said "follow me," not "follow the idea of me," and certainly not "follow what people say or write about me." And by following, Jesus did not mean for his disciples to simply walk behind him, but to "walk" in every sense of that word - to follow his example and walk just as he walked in his life.

If we are seeking to anything less than that, or are listening to those proclaiming a lesser walk of faith, then we are doing less then Jesus calls us to do.

Why? Because he called us to do as he did, and everything Jesus did completely pleased our Creator. Therefore, if we wish to please our creator, we will do as Jesus did, to the best of our abilities.

Why would anyone today listen to anyone who said that we are to do less, or be less, than Jesus calls us to do, and become? Why would we listen to anyone saying that we are not capable of doing what Jesus calls us to do?

To do less is to be less than God wants us to be. That means: less holy, less human, and less complete. God wants us to be fully holy, to be fully human, and to be fully perfect and complete.
To do that means to walk as Jesus walked. And to walk that way means to seek diligently to follow his teachings.

If we doubt that we can do all that Jesus says God wants us to do, and all Jesus CALLS us to do, then we need to stop pretending that we are following Jesus or the challenging Gospel that he preached. We would have, in that case, accepted some lesser gospel.

But as creatures created in the image of the creator of the universe, this lesser, easier gospel is not worthy of us.

Only by humbly seeking to follow in his footsteps, and by seeking forgiveness from our merciful God when we fail to live up to those high standards, can we be truly counted as followers of Jesus and of the Gospel he, himself preached.

Jesus Followers simply are those who read and seek to understand and obey only the teachings of Jesus as a guide to how we should live our lives.

Obeying his teachings, and going out into the world finding others to obey them, as well, is literally the Great Commission he gave his disciples. (Matt 28:20)

Those words and teachings, and no others added to them, are what Jesus says leads directly to our Creator and His perfect will for us. (John 14:6)

With this knowledge now clearly before us, let us rededicate ourselves to truly following Jesus, and no other man. Through him, we will seek to reach our full human potential as children of our Creator.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Moving Mountains and Doing Good Works #JesusFollowers

"For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible to you.” - Matthew 17:20

A faith that can move mountains is a faith that believes human beings are the creation of One God, and that this Creator gave us unlimited potential to do Good.

If this isn’t the message of your church, you’re in a false religion that is opposed to the teachings of Jesus.

In this verse, and others, Jesus wasn’t teaching magic tricks to the crowds following him around in ancient Judea. He was teaching something about faith, and hope, and our ability to do Good.

He taught an active, bold, and courageous faith that tells us that we are not only capable of ALL the great compassion, love, and goodness he was exemplifying, but that THIS WAS OUR CREATOR’S PLAN for us, all along.

We are fulfilled and perfected by personally doing the holy deeds that bring in God’s Kingdom here on Earth. Our actions, when we do Good, are the actions of Godliness and holiness.

We become Good only by doing Goodness. Human beings reflect the holiness of our Creator by doing the holiness He knows we are capable of doing.

Jesus says, “Love your enemies and do Good to them.” (Luke 6:35) “Do Good to those who hate you,” (Luke 6:27) “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your Good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)

While we are cautioned not to do Good deeds simply to be seen by others and receive praise from them (Matt. 6:1) this are nonetheless a teaching of Jesus we cannot ignore, or pretend we are unable to do.

He said, “Truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing and they will do even greater things.” (John 14:12)

Entering the Narrow Gate, as Jesus instructs us to do, means this path of doing Good (Doing Righteousness) isn’t the popular path. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” (Matt. 5:10) Because “Small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt. 6:14.)

Jesus commissions us, his followers, to do Good in the world. We are to deny ourselves and pick up our crosses EVERY DAY (Luke 9:23) doing the work among our neighbors that will spread Goodness and help the suffering throughout the earth.

We have this as a mission if we take up his call. And he made this call abundantly clear. We are to:

1) Love God and our neighbors with every fiber of our being (Mark 12:30-31)

2) Make disciples of all nations who will obey his teachings. (Matt. 28:19-20, John 7:26, John 8:31) and

3) Do acts of compassion for others: Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting and comfort the sick and those in prison. (Matt. 25:36)

That’s it, in a nutshell. Anything added to this, or made less than this, is an invention of men, and can easily be dismissed and ignored.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Christianity As Jesus Taught It #JesusFollowers

Jesus teaching

“Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." - John 6:38.

Who will show us any good? Where are we to look for the clearest, truest setting forth of his religion? 

There is such a variety of Churches, there are such differences of form and of creed, there is such a confusion of ecclesiastical tongues, and so many of them asserting that theirs is the only faith by which anyone can be saved.

And meanwhile, some think it doubtful if any faith can stand. Where shall we find some real light - some solid ground to rest upon?

Am I mistaken in saying that this is a craving widely felt at the present time?

The heart of society just now is in a curiously puzzled and perplexed condition. It is not satisfied. People have the answers of their various Churches. 

These tell them in creed and catechism, in article and confession, what it is that man must believe, and which shall be "saving faith” to him. 

And all the points are well backed up by “proof texts,” which sound clear and unmistakable; yet, when all is said, people are not satisfied.

It may not be that they have come to actually disbelieve these doctrines, but they do not feel that they go to the root of the matter.

Now I want to set before you what I believe to be the true way out of these doubts, the true way to this broader, simpler, more practical religion.

That way, I believe to be, to look simply to Christianity as Christ Jesus preached it; to go back, as near as we can, through the narratives of the Gospels, to Jesus as he went about among the people, himself preaching his own “good tidings" - his own religion. 

See what he himself said. how he answered people's questions; what he urged them to believe or to do, his beautiful, deep sayings. 

These an old saying: “The Bible, and the Bible only."  Well, I want to bring that idea to a brighter point still: “Jesus, and Jesus only, the special teacher for Christians.”

There is not a church throughout the world that does not claim Jesus as its teacher. The real difficulty occurs when we come to the practical application of it. 

Those four Gospel accounts of how he himself preached are sufficient in giving us Christianity as Jesus himself preached it.

A great deal of what passes for Christianity in the churches of the day will fail when tried by this test.

Always Jesus represents God as only wanting our repentance, waiting to forgive. There is never a word about the necessity of the penalty being paid; never a hint as to there being any hindrance to God's free mercy, except the hindrance of a hardness of heart.

I want to set before you the simple Gospel which Jesus Christ went about trying to persuade people to receive - the Gospel of love and practical righteousness.

Surely the very heart of it all, that which was the central light, was his sense of the infinite tenderness of God, and of the blessedness of living in His love, as His trustful and faithful children. 

Just let us recall the manner of our Savior's ministry, how he went about, what he taught the people:

Blessings on the pure in heart, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, exhortations to a higher righteousness than that of the Law as set forth by the Scribes and Pharisees; teachings about brotherly love – “leave your gift before the altar, and go and make up with your brother;" not doing anything “to be seen by others;" about the quiet charity that should not let the left hand know what the right hand does; about patience, and kindness - enforced by reminding them of God's kindness to all of us.

And the passage, "Not everyone that says to me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven, but he that does the will of my Father in Heaven."

That sermon was what one may call the great proclamation of his ministry. Then, follow him in thought as he moves among the people, telling them of the priceless value of having the kingdom of God in their hearts. 

And always he turns around from these thoughts of the Heavenly Father's love, to appeals for our loving duty! God's part was free, unpurchased love; our part He says is practical righteousness.

Never from his teachings could that false idea of righteousness be learned, which places opinions above conduct.

And it was not his teachings alone. These teachings were uttered in something nobler than word. The teaching was done into life.

And the Life was more powerful than the word, and so it is not merely “Christianity as Jesus preached it,” but “as Jesus lived it,” that stands for us in the Gospels.

The more I look upon that life of such sublime strength, holy love, and deep, living wisdom, the more I think of what Christianity was as Jesus preached it, and the more I feel how poor our faith in Him has become.

Place first a faith in those grand, simple teachings of God's love and our duty, and hold them up before the world with all the power of your speech and of your life.

(Adapted from an 1875 sermon by Rev. Brooke Herford 1830-1903)

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Justin Bieber’s Lyrics And Modern Christianity #JesusFollowers

Let’s talk music. Specifically, Justin Bieber.

The undeniably talented pop superstar is popular, rich, and influential with his millions of fans.

He’s also lonely, according to a new song of his, titled simply, “Lonely.”

But before dealing with that, let’s get some background. In 2014, Justin was a mess: Heavy drinking, a scandal about some racist words he used as a youth, and an overall “bad boy” image from doing stupid things.

Enter Christianity. Specifically, the Australia-based Pentecostal mega-church Hillsong.

The church has branches throughout the world, including the US, and is known for its pastors in skinny jeans and “laid back” attitude, as well as its prosperity Gospel, which says Christians can get rich, and doing so is a sign of God’s approval.

In 2014, Bieber was baptized by Carl Lentz, pastor of Hillsong’s New York City branch, in an NBA basketball player’s bathtub (it was reportedly very large!)

How’s his new faith working out?

On the surface, he got his act together. He married another Hillsong member, Hailey Baldwin, in 2018, and, now 26, has stayed out of the headlines for the shenanigans he was known for as a youth. But his music has not made the same spiritual journey.

In 2015 (pre-baptism) he had released “No Sense,” in which he opines, “It don’t make no sense unless I’m doing it with you.”

Nothing’s changed. His early 2020 hit, “Yummy” was reportedly a song about his wife’s private parts. Nuff said there.

His catchy December, 2020 hit, “Holy,” is anything but. He sings, “I hear a lot about sinners. Don’t think that I’ll be a saint.” And, “The way you hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me, feels so holy, holy, holy, holy.”

In October, he had released the aforementioned “Lonely.” Many lyrics are clearly thoughtful, noting that he hopes “when I’m older, it’ll all calm down.” And he ruminates on how hard it is being a celebrity, as many other singers have done before.

But it’s hard to believe some lines were written and sung by a Christian.

“What if you had it all, but nobody to call?”  “But no one’s listening, and that’s just F****ing lonely.” “And everyone saw me sick, and it felt like no one gave a s**t.” His plaintive wail, “I’m  so lo-oooonely” is haunting, and very sad.

Nobody to call, no one listening? One wonders where his pastor was.

Lentz, his mentor/pastor, disappeared from Justin’ life. He was fired from Hillsong in November, partly due to infidelity accusations, and because he seemed obsessed with celebrities and designer clothing more than he was helping those church members in need of spiritual help, like Justin.

On Jan. 4, 2021, Justin took to Instagram to “debunk” rumors. He denied being a member of Hillsong (now) and claimed to be a member of Churchome, led by Pastor Judah Smith, who had introduced him to Lentz and had officiated his wedding.

He also said, “Church is not a place. We are the church. We don’t need a building to connect with God, God is with us wherever we are.” And in that, he’s correct.

Back to Lentz, he let Justin down. But not just him. His church let him down. And even deeper, so did Christian theology.

That’s because the root cause of moral rot in today’s Church is its theology. Pastors today blindly repeat: “You can’t EARN your salvation, it’s a FREE GIFT,” (“Instant Salvation”) and “Good works are FILTHY rags to God,” (“Unholy Religion”) and “we’re born sinners, we can’t help it.” (“Original Sin/Inherited Guilt Nature”)

Where does this false theology lead church members? They conclude that religion is cheap, and nothing matters.

This rotten theology creates a lazy faith that doesn’t lead to doing good and being Good. Both are seen as unnecessary, and in some churches, impossible, for human beings.

So, we see a baptized rock star carelessly using religious concepts as fodder for his sex-focused lyrics, then mocking the idea of “Being a saint.” Why? Because his false teachers themselves mock “morality” as irrelevant to salvation, and to God.

Knowing this background, can we blame Justin Bieber for moral laxness? No. We dare not throw stones at HIM. The blame lies with modern Christianity: a belief system that failed to give him the moral clarity to improve how he was influencing his millions of fans – and fails many millions of churchgoers.

Jesus’ teachings bring that moral clarity. And a “Christian” belief system based on ANYTHING OTHER than his teachings is a false religion.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

God Gives Us Freedom To Choose! #JesusFollowers

God, our Creator, has created all of us with the awesome responsibility of the Freedom to Choose. The abilities and knowledge we inherit from God at our birth allow us to choose the Good, but has also left us with the ability to choose what is evil. It is in recognizing what is evil, and avoiding or repenting of it, then actively choosing the Good that we are considered Righteous by God.

In the Hebrew Bible, and as taught by Jesus, God repeatedly tells us to "choose" and "obey" and that we will be judged according to our choices.

God, through Moses, said that His Law was “not too hard” so that we “could do it.” (Deut. 30:14) And God expected us to obey his moral commands, as Jesus repeated consistently. Jesus said that no one else would be charged with our disobedience, and no other would be responsible for our actions except ourselves.

In the very beginning of the Hebrew Bible, we learn in the story of Adam and Eve how human beings were entrusted with a Freedom of Choice. 

The story portrays God as giving Adam and Eve the choice of not eating from a free of knowledge and remaining in a Garden of innocence forever, or eating from it and eventually dying, and leaving to make his own way in the world.

They chose to leave, and were told by God to "Be fruitful and multiply." Otherwise, his choice, and that of  Eve, affected no one but them. And note that Adam and Eve - created in God's image (Gen. 1:27) - were created to be perfect by God, they lived in a perfect world, yet were able to disobey God.

Sin cannot be inherited. Here's how we know: God told Adam's son, Cain (just one generation after Adam!) that he COULD avoid sin, and MUST do so to avoid punishment (Gen. 4:7.)

God didn’t respect Cain and his offering, "So Cain was very angry, and the expression on his face fell. And Yahweh said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires you, but you must rule over it." (Gen. 4:5b-8)

If he was able to freely choose to do Good, so may we! Only Cain was affected by his subsequent evil choice. The Bible teaches us that sins are acts, not THINGS. Sins are what we commit or avoid, not a thing we can inherit biologically.

This is why Ezekiel records: "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." (Ezek. 18:19)

Just after the Exodus out of Egypt, Joshua told the Israelites to serve Yahweh their God, "in sincerity and in truth," and to "choose this day whom you will serve," (Joshua 24:14-15) Clearly, Joshua believed they could choose to faithfully serve God in sincerity and in truth.

The prophet Isaiah also clearly agreed with God that human beings were capable of choosing to, "reject the wrong and choose the right." (7:15)

Psalm 24 notes who may stand before God: "The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god." 

This strongly affirms our ability to obey God and seek to be righteous. If we cannot do these things, then literally no one would ever stand in God's presence. But that's not what the Bible teaches.

Psalm 25-27 are even more personal, with King David saying that he has (following repentance) led a clean life by choosing the righteous path. He had earlier written: "Yahweh dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me." (Psalm 18:20)

Jesus had high hopes for our moral abilities, and taught that we are to be, "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48) This same teacher - this human being chosen by God - said that he did all things that pleased God (John 8:29.)

He also said that we must follow him, doing ALL that he had done. (John 13:15; 14:12) Based on these teachings, we definitely have the ability to do great good, if we choose to do so. It's the choosing that can be hard sometimes, but that does not diminish our ability to do the good, which is God-given.

We have the God-given ability to seek Godliness and that we can become Godly and complete – not by ourselves without God or without God’s chosen example, but with God's ongoing help and with the example of Jesus always before us.

As we have seen here, it is NOT our inherited destiny to be "unable to not sin," and that we are not born so depraved that we may not choose what is good and do it. The scriptures teach that we may indeed choose NOT to sin.

Ecclesiasticus records the clearest statement of our freedom to choose, saying: "If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given. For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything; his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every human action. He has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and he has not given anyone permission to sin." (15:15-20)

It is God’s choice – His GRACE alone – whether we shall live with Him eternally. But it is up to us if WE CHOOSE to seek this gift, and God says we demonstrate this choice by our actions. This isn't true only if we are unable to freely choose what is good.

We are called to commit our lives to obedience to God's chosen Son, Jesus, the Anointed Prophet of God, and submit to humbly walk with him, relying, as he taught, on God's grace and forgiveness and growing into the Righteous Perfection that God knows we are capable of achieving.

And while sin may be waiting by the door for us, seeking to master us, we are assured that we may indeed defeat – and master – sinful temptations. This is amazingly good news, because it shows that our Creator knows us, and still trusts us with the ability to act and choose to obey Him freely!

Through the teachings of Jesus, God shows us that He is a parent Who allows His children to make mistakes, repent, and turn back to doing what is right.

We should thank God, our Creator in Whose image we were created, for trusting us to make our own choices, and let’s pledge to always take that awesome responsibility seriously in all that we do.