Sunday, July 25, 2021

How Can We Know What Is Good? #JesusFollowers


On the first day of his class, a college professor announced they would be tested that very day. The subject of the test would be all the material they were going to learn.

Not only would the test cover material from the upcoming semester, said the professor, but these freshmen students would be tested on senior-level material - four years of information, none which they had been taught.

Now, clearly, such a test would be unfair, and the results of such a test would be predictable - most students would be unable to answer most of the question. Why should a student without knowledge of a subject be able to know it enough to pass such an advanced test?
One might also ask why babies are not able to read or write, or why no eight-year-olds are experts in constitutional law.

The answer to all of these, as well, is that they lack the knowledge and experience to do so.

And yet, people have no problem asking why there is so much evil and even simple badness in the world. The answer, of course, is the same as in the previous examples: People act badly in many cases because they are simply unaware of what is Good. (And yes, there are many who do know, and choose to do evil.)

The question of Good and Evil is often a religious one. And that is appropriate. God, our creator, has standards of behavior that, if we adhere to them, will make us far better and even more spiritually perfect beings.

If one follows Jesus, and believes that God chose this man to be the example of how all of us should be living, then knowledge of what he taught and preached is essential to knowing what is Good.

When we believe that this Chosen One of God is the very best example of the Good that God wishes us to pursue, we have been saved from the ignorance of what is Good. That is the first step towards the Goodness God wishes for us, bt it is not the final step.

Our spiritual journey is a lifelong one. Jesus calls us to follow him, not to merely recognize him as our morally perfect example, and certainly not to simply admire his perfection.

Knowledge of the teachings of Jesus is the first step in our journey toward spiritual perfection. Committing to following those teachings is what brings us closer to the goal he sets for us.

That we cannot instantly achieve spiritual maturity does not say anything about human nature. As in the examples above, it's unreasonable to demand that we will learn any skill or even any Behavior instantly.

That is not a flaw. It is built into our Nature. The brother of Jesus, James, wrote that when we are tested with trials, we become stronger. This is because we learn from them, and they teach us.

So too, with the lessons Jesus teaches us. As a follower of Jesus, we learn not only from trials, but from the perfect example of the one God chose for us.

Having such a perfect example always before us is an amazing and beautiful gift from our creator. That we have this example, and that Jesus himself said we may do as he did, means that our nature is perfectible, and that we may indeed do good in a way that pleases God.

These teachings, therefore, should be our guidepost, our template, our goal in life.

To love God with all that we have and all that we are, and to love our neighbor exactly as we love ourselves, is the epitome of what it means to be a human being. This we learn from the teachings of Jesus, the one whom God anointed to be our Master.

To seek after this spiritual completeness, this maturity, this perfection, is therefore our goal in life.

That we know what is Good and what is evil means that we have an obligation to seek the Good and avoid the evil and, by our actions alone, not by our condemnation, to demonstrate this and share it with the world.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

What Is Our True Nature? #JesusFollowers


A minister on the radio was heard saying that humans beings are all, morally, "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 good or to do evil, and that we will be held responsible for those choices when we stand before God.

Let us quickly dispense with the idea that we are all condemned criminals. The only ministers who say this too readily discount the idea of our Heavenly Father' vast mercy, or are deliberately hiding this wonderful aspect of our Creator.

Of course, what this minister was really trying to imply is that we are all born under an imaginary curse, one that somehow makes us unable to do any good to please God, and that we are therefore born already condemned in the sight of God. 

This is scripturally false 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, are man-made excuses for our failure to obey.

Not to mention, it makes Jesus into an unreasonable master, for commanding what cannot be done by us. That would mean that God knows we cannot do it, but had Jesus tell us to do these impossible tasks anyway. Then, he would condemn us to punishment for not doing them!

If God did this, and if we could not act Righteously, God would be the author of our sins, and an unjust judge. He would be responsible for our actions, and not us, if we were unable by our very nature to obey what He and his chosen son have laid out before us to do.

It would also mean that Jesus was a liar, and his teachings calling is to do Good would be a mockery, too.

Without our freedom of Will and freedom to act there can be no judgement of our actions by a moral God. But the good news is that we were created with the ability to choose.

This ability means that our choices have eternal meaning, and that the Good we do is not just a forced choice made by a domineering God, but instead, is a joyful and grateful response to God's love.

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's, nor his descendants' ability to choose right from wrong. God is portrayed in Genesis as telling Adam's own son, Cain, that he had the freedom (and the duty) to do right or to do wrong, and to take the consequences of either choice. That, alone, ruins the concept of our alleged "moral inability" to do good, because of Adam's Sin.

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 is abundantly clear that the Hebrew scriptures teach nothing else except that we have the ability to act and to do good, and that we are commanded by God, our Creator, to do exactly that.

Jesus, also, teaches us that God wishes us to have willing hearts and to follow the path of righteousness through our actions.

We are, like King David, fully 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 of her, simply a determination to repent to do good, instead. Radical action was required of her - and she was able to do it.

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

So, we see that the minister's foolish 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, which 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 fact that many do not know that the Gospel is a challenge, and are unaware that Jesus' Gospel is fully contained in his words, doesn't make them criminals sentenced to death eternally. 

Instead, it makes them imperfect, because they are, our of ignorance, not following God's perfect path of righteousness. This ignorance is because wicked ministers have not taught them this Truth.

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) fall grossly short of Jesus' teachings, often warping them beyond all recognition, or worse, ignoring or minimizing them.
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. It is one worth sharing.

Knowing that Jesus pleased God in every way, and said that 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 many ministers do.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

He Has Shown Us #JesusFollowers

 

“He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

"He has shown you, O man." Whoever among you makes this inquiry, if you think and consider, may perceive that God has already taught you those services that He requires, and what things are the most acceptable to Him.

He teaches us by our own reason, if we will use it. He has also shown us this in his word, in the Law, and in all the revelations He has made to us.

So, in the Law of Moses (Deut. 10:12-13) it is written, “Now, Israel, what does Yahweh your God require of you, but to fear Yahweh your God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep Yahweh’s commandments and statutes, which I command you today for your good?”

And many of the Prophets speak in perfect agreement what is here said in Micah. In Isaiah: “Wash yourselves, make yourself clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do well. Seek justice...” (Isaiah 1:16) And in Hosea: "For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:6.)

Therefore what is said had been said before, and often taught, and shown to this people by reason, and by other Prophets and messengers.

"He has shown you what is good," or right, what is in itself reasonable and excellent.

"What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly?" This covers everything that is fair and equal between people, according to the relations they keep, or the obligations they are under to each other.

In our common traffic with others, we are to observe truth in our words, so on all other occasions we are to regard the truth of things, not saying anything falsely to the disparagement of our neighbor, which would be shown an injustice, a most injurious action.

It follows next, "And to love mercy" or goodness. When the duty owed to our neighbor is described as "loving," them both justice and mercy are included in that one word. Here they are mentioned separately, and distinctly. And also elsewhere. "Therefore turn to your God. Keep mercy [kindness] and justice, and wait continually for your God." (Micah 12:6)

Showing mercy is doing no more to others than what we, in the same circumstances, would have others do to us. And not just relieving our own relatives, or friends, but also strangers, when we can.

The last thing in this text said to be required of us is, "to walk humbly with God," or as the Hebrew is, literally, "and to humble yourself to walk with your God." The meaning in general is, "and to resolve to obey all God's commandments, and to continue and persevere in them always, to the end of life."

It is to resolve to worship the true God, and Him alone. In the text it is "Yahweh, your God,” meaning the God who has made us.

We perceive that the holy obedience required of us is of great extent - consisting of justice, mercy and piety.

It can therefore be no very easy thing to be truly religious. It must be a difficult and a high attainment. We have need, as Jesus directs us, to strive, to exert ourselves, and to do our utmost to enter in at the narrow gate. (Matt. 7:13-14)

Let us seriously attend to this representation of true religion, and remember that the things insisted on are absolutely necessary.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Nathaniel Lardner)

Sunday, July 4, 2021

To Be Truly Transformed by #Jesus #JesusFollowers

The message that Jesus taught during his ministry is an active and revolutionary call to action for the human race.

It's not a mystical or mysterious process of transformation that he calls us to, but a practical and real one.

Jesus calls us to do good, to become more holy people, to act in righteousness, and to serve others first.

Jesus calls us to achieve, to do, to act, to work, to become better people, to seek out the truth, to be humble, to worship and praise our God, and to love others.

Doing good on behalf of others stands at the very core of the Gospel Jesus preached.

Jesus is our model and example. God chose and sent Jesus out into the world to show us by word and deed how we should live Godly lives: To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, comfort those in distress - these things are to be our mission in life, according to Jesus.

To be transformed by Jesus to be called to action by him, and to heed that call. His example, his message, his Gospel, is what transforms our lives and the lives of those around us. We rely on the example of Jesus and the ongoing inspiration and assistance of God's Spirit to transform us and make our lives spiritually complete.

We are transformed by Jesus only when we go from inactive self-assurance to active service of others.

We are transformed by Jesus when we actively love God and demonstrate that love by actively serving and loving our neighbors just as we love ourselves, as God's anointed one taught us to do.

If we call ourselves by his name, we ought to walk as he himself walked, becoming in our daily lives the very model of his righteousness in all that we do. Let us allow our acts shine like a light in a world desperate for our example.