Sunday, February 26, 2023

God's Unlimited Mercy! #JesusFollowers

 Jesus spoke frequently of God's mercy, forgiveness and our need for repentance. No story in the Hebrew Scriptures better illustrates this than the story of Jonah.

Jonah the Prophet was sent by God to Nineveh, to call on them to forsake their evil ways and repent. Jonah (after famously fleeing and being brought back on track by a whale) does as he is commanded and Nineveh actually repents, turning to God in true and genuine repentance, seeking forgiveness for their sins.

In this parable of God's mercy, Jonah, now a successful prophet, is furious with God, because he believes he was made to look like a chump for calling down God's wrath. He complains to God that, "I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" and that he KNEW that God would be merciful to them if they repented from their sins (Jonah 4:1.) And Jonah was correct.

The story of Jonah, like the ministry of Jesus, illustrates God's unlimited mercy and forgiveness. Both are available to us when we repent of our sins and choose to follow God's path of Righteousness instead.

Jesus refers to Nineveh and their repentance during his ministry, saying, "The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment and condemn the people living today, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah. But look, something greater than Jonah is here!" (Luke 11:30.)

The men of Nineveh were held up by Jesus as examples for those in Judea who were acting in unrighteous ways.

God asks Jonah after his outburst, "Is it right for you to be angry?" (4:4) And it's a good question, and one that's still relevant. Because like Jonah, some modern Christian leaders are very angry with God for being too generous with His mercy and forgiveness.

And yet, God has mercy on those whom HE chooses to have mercy. James writes, "Mercy triumphs over judgment." (James 2:13)

The truth is, God is not bound by OUR ideas of Justice and Condemnation. In this sense, God's ways are surely not OUR ways.

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.

And in the same way, one minor flaw in our character, one falling short of God's perfect way does not condemn us to eternal separation from God, as some today would imagine it. Jesus says we are forgiven when we repent and turn back to God, just as all the Hebrew Prophets before him promised.

"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7) Isaiah told the children of Israel to turn back to God, against Whom they had deeply and greatly revolted (Isaiah 31:6.)

The wisdom of God is that we may forsake our sins and repent, then we will find God's mercy waiting for us (Prov. 28:13.) And if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9.)

What does God require of us? Mercy. Jesus says those who seek mercy shall have it (Matt. 5:7) and in turn we are called to "Be merciful" just as our Father in Heaven is merciful. And as we are forgiven and receive mercy, we are called upon to forgive others and have mercy upon others (Luke 6:36-37.)

But wait - can God just show mercy to us - without retribution or payment? Just like that? Yes.

God isn't the elected leader of a government we created, nor is He bound by rules we think He must follow. No one should say, "God cannot show mercy because He is bound be laws to be unmerciful." or, "We must pay a price before we get mercy from God." No, God's mercy transcends His judgment, when we repent with a pure heart and genuineness. All the Hebrew Scriptures and our Master, Jesus, testify clearly to the wonderful Truth that God's mercy is unlimited.

God requires nothing but our genuine repentance to "earn" his mercy. "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," God tells Moses. "And I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." (Ex. 33:19)

The Hebrew Bible, consistent with the teachings of Jesus, tells us we may ALL return to God when we forsake evil and turn back to God's holy path of Righteous living.

Hosea and Jesus both inform us that God requires "mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:6; Matt. 9:13; Matt. 12:7) The Prophet Micah says we are to "love Mercy" (6:6)

We are blessed to know a God Who does not curse us with other's sins, and Who freely grants mercy to the repentant!

King David writes: "When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long." But, "I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD GOD,' and You forgave the iniquity of my sin." (Psalm 32.)

Having received the mercy of God, we are called by our Master, Jesus to show mercy to others. 

We show in our service to others - the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the homeless, the destitute and the suffering - that we understand what God's mercy means to us. And because we have the example of this man, Jesus, who achieved God's Standard of excellence, we know we are capable of doing what God asks of us.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Jesus: Chosen, Adopted and Anointed by God


Who was Jesus? Was he one of many good philosophers throughout history? Was he a violent revolutionary? Was he a counter-culture teacher who preached free love and destroyed "restrictive" rules? Was he God disguised as a man, who came from heaven to die a ritual death and “buy” our souls from Satan? Was he a deity who only appeared to be human?

All of these theories have been preached and taught throughout history. But can all of them be true? Are none? Just who WAS this man? To learn this, we should probably listen to his own words, and to those who knew him.

In a previous weekly message, we introduced the opening sentence of the Jesus Followers' Statement of Belief, "We follow Jesus Alone." Now, we continue with the second of 13 Statements, which states that Jesus is, "God's Chosen, Adopted, and Anointed Spokesman."

It's clear that God set Jesus apart from other men, adopting and anointing him as a special spokesman at his baptism: chosen by God, anointed by God, and sent by God. Jesus himself is clear about this, the Gospels attest to it, and the Apostles taught it. And yet these truths are shockingly absent from today’s Christian pulpits.

The early church spoke of Jesus as a man, chosen by God. In Peter’s sermons in Acts, he speaks of him as, "Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God" (Acts 2:22.) At the Transfiguration, no less than God is quoted as saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!" {Luke 9:35).

As the Kings and the prophets of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) were set apart and "anointed" by God to be his servants and messengers, so, too, was Jesus anointed by God, and in his first sermon, he says specifically, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me." (Luke 4:18) and in Acts, Peter says, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth." (Acts 10:38.)

Thus anointed and chosen, this Jesus was adopted by God as His unique "Son." At his baptism, God’s voice says, “This day, I have begotten you,” (Acts 13:33, Luke 3:22 Codex Bezae vers.) thus becoming his father by adoption.

Jesus said himself that it was God who “sent me” (Mark 9:37, Luke 9:48, John 5:37-38) and so also taught the first disciples of Jesus, who went out preaching his words.

Jesus, therefore, isn't merely a philosopher with his own theories, but a spokesman for God. “My teaching is not mine,” he says, “but His who sent me” (John 7:16.) Nor can he be a non-human hybrid, through which we can live with God eternally if we simply believe in Jesus’ death, but ignore his words, which he said would “never pass away” (Matt. 5:18, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33.)

The early Church that gathered in Jerusalem after the death of Jesus and his return to God in the resurrection, saw Jesus as a man (Acts 2:22) chosen by God, sent by God and adopted by God at his baptism to proclaim a Good and Beneficial Message to mankind, the Gospel. They recognized this message as calling on all to repent and turn back to God, seeking God’s perfect standards, living meekly and in holiness, and being a light of Righteousness to all the world. We can do no less today if we call ourselves Jesus Followers.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

What Is Love? #JesusFollowers

"Love" is one of those words in the English language that can leave us easily confused.

As we prepare to celebrate Valentine's Day tomorrow, let's examine the various ways in which this word is being used in contemporary society, and how Jesus used the word.

Love can mean a strong attachment to pancakes or pickles, a deep emotional attachment to another person like a spouse, parent or neighbor, it can express a deep “fan” relationship with a movie franchise like Star Wars, or it can mean lust for a drug, a person, an object, or a stranger.

This imprecise definition didn’t exist in the oldest manuscripts of the words of our Master, Jesus, which were preserved in Greek. 

Love most often was conveyed in the Gospel books with a word, agape [agapaō] which means a pure, all-consuming love. 

It’s this word that is used when Jesus calls us to, "Love Yahweh, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." And, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

It was not limited to our friends, or to those who love us, because it’s agape that is used when Jesus says “Love your enemies.” (Matt. 5:43)

The Fourth Gospel records, “For God so loved the world,” using that same word, agape, showing that God has deep, abiding and unlimited love for us. God chose and sent out Jesus as our special example to us, so that we might not live in darkness, but in light

But it’s not just God than can show this love, however. We are called by Jesus to “Love one another; JUST as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)

The fact that we are to love “JUST AS I HAVE LOVED YOU” is a powerful calling to us. We are told by Jesus that we may indeed love just as he loved; act just as he acted; serve just as he served. Our love is to have no bounds, just as Jesus’ love had no bounds.

This is all important to understand, given the many misconceptions about “love” – even among those who attend the churches of Christendom today – and even among those who do not.

"Love" having so many meanings, many today believe the love we are called to show is the shallow love we have for food, movies and other things with which we have a strong emotional attachment.

It would be a serious mistake, however, to assume that ALL we must do is express a light, shallow Love towards God and towards others. "Love is All You Need" is the name of an awesome Beatles song about emotional attachment between two lovers, not the imperative that Jesus calls us to embrace.

The Power of Love, the kind of Love that God shows us through His son, Jesus, is the kind of Love that is deep, unattached to emotions. It’s not an erotic love, or a shallow love, or a "love" that has no meaning or caring behind it, but it is instead the deepest and most pure Love there is. 

This kind of Love must be the cornerstone of our faith. Love of God and love of our neighbors is what Jesus calls us to actively show in our daily lives.

The faith that Jesus teaches challenges us to love God so much that we love others just as God does, and show it by doing Good Works in the service of others.

And we are called to love and obey God and serve others, using Jesus' perfect example as our guide, and then we are to accept that GOD ALONE is our judge, and our God is a God of mercy, if we ask for it.

"Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me." (John 14:21)

"If you keep my commandments," says Jesus, "you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love." (John 15:10)

Sunday, February 5, 2023

#Jesus Calls Us to Love God Completely And Serve Others Selflessly #JesusFollowers

During his ministry, Jesus taught us to selflessly love God and others completely. As Jesus followers, these two “great commandments” must be at the heart of all that we do, this should guide our actions and inform our motives. If we claim to be obedient to the will of God, as expressed in the life and teachings of Jesus, these teachings be at the forefront of our Faith.

Love of God and love of Others is the core of Jesus' teaching on Love, and summarized the teachings of the Jewish prophets and Law.

“Teacher,” Jesus was asked, “which is the great commandment in the Law?” His answer? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:36-40.)

While many Christians have heard these words before, many, if not most, don’t take them to their fullest meaning, and others lessen their importance, either by minimizing their intended impact, or by de-emphasizing them entirely.

Much of what Jesus taught was extremely simple to grasp, while being extremely challenging, in the sense that his teachings challenged us to actively pursue righteousness in our actions and to seek God by pursuing Godliness in our hearts.

And while this summary of the Law and the Prophets did simplify the message God sends to His people, it was never meant to mean that religion only means that we need have “warm feelings” for both God and for our fellow human beings and that we can leave it at that. Nor does this crucial saying end the necessity for Good Works nor nullify any of God’s Moral Law, as evangelical Christians often assert.

The nature of the Great Commandment is to reiterate the basics of the faith the Jews had inherited from their Fathers. It wasn't about the hundreds of man-made rules and regulations that the Pharisees and other groups had created over the centuries. Jesus condemned those and said they separated men from God.

But while some would like to believe Jesus said, “Just acknowledge God’s existence and be nice to one another,” (or who deny that anything further than mere acknowledgement is possible for a human being) the Great Commandment asks for more than that.

The Great Commandment is a challenge – and a rather radical one. Namely, that God must become the absolute center of our lives – and not just on Sunday at 11 o’clock in the morning. God must be loved with ALL our hearts and ALL our soul and ALL our mind, at all times. One hundred percent is required, no less.

This is a call to do good - a call to serve Others, just as Jesus served others. We are able to serve just as Jesus served, we are commanded to do so, and Jesus confirms this with his words (John 14:23-24) which will never pass away (Matt. 24:35.) Only those who DO what is right, as Jesus has commanded, is righteous, just Jesus was righteous (1 John 3:7.)

We have no right to claim to be a follower of Jesus if we don't strive to love God completely and serve others just as Jesus did. Nor may we "claim" our eternal salvation from God if we don't consequently seek to act righteously as both He and His Chosen Spokesman commanded.

We are to be the hands and words and comforting arms of God's Kingdom here on Earth. We are called by Jesus to be a People of God, to serve Others in the name of God's Anointed servant, Jesus. And we are called to forgive others, if we expect to be forgiven by God (Mark 6:14-15.)

There are some who go on to deny that we can ever do this, being lowly human beings, weak in our flesh. But they forget that our flesh was created by God, and that God knows us and would not command that we do what we are unable to do.

God adopted, chose, anointed and sent the man Christ Jesus, to both proclaim our ability to do what God asks us to do, and to demonstrate by his selfless and perfectly moral life that Godliness may indeed be manifested in a human being, and that ALL may do as Jesus has done. This is Good News, and we must proclaim it to the world.