Sunday, July 30, 2023

What Does God Think We Can Do? #JesusFollowers


Just a few verses into the Hebrew Bible, in the book of Genesis, there is a well-known story that has valuable lessons that, if better known, could change the way we understand God, our human abilities, and our responsibilities as God’s children.

The story of Cain and Abel – well known as an allegorical tale of brotherly strife – begins with both brothers offering up a sacrifice to God. Abel offers up animals on an altar, while Cain offers fruits and vegetables. However…
"[Yahweh] 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)
The story goes on to tell how the angry, confused Cain sought out and murdered his brother Abel. God then finds Cain in hiding, and asks him where his brother was. Cain answered with that well-known line (as if he was innocent of the crime) "Am I my brother's keeper?" God then punishes Cain by marking him for all eternity.

So, what lessons does this story teach us, today, about human beings, and our abilities?

First, God laid out two paths of action to Cain, equally offering acceptance (to be “Lifted” in the Hebrew, meaning exalted) if he had chosen to do what was right.

God also told Cain he had the ability to RULE OVER or “master” sin, if he chose to do it.

God’s offer of acceptance to Cain, and the choice he was given, prove that he had the ability to do what is right – and so do we.

But this simple lesson has been invisible to many religious teachers, who have long denied that we as human beings have the ability to choose to do what is right.

Some – living hundreds of years after Jesus' ministry – taught that Cain’s father, Adam (the first human being, along with Eve, in the book of Genesis) sinned against God. This, they say, caused all of his descendants, including us, to be UNABLE TO AVOID SINNING.

They also taught that this inability was passed on to us through our ancestors when they had sex. This is the teaching of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and all modern Protestant and Catholic churches.

If this is true, then we are powerless to avoid sin – and powerless to do what God commands us to do.

But the actual words of this story blow apart these man-made theories.

Cain, the very child of Adam in this story, had the ability to NOT kill Abel, had he chosen that option. He was assured by God that he could CHOOSE to not sin, and in fact, said he MUST do so, to avoid punishment.

This story teaches us volumes about God’s nature, as well as human nature. God created us to obey His moral commandments. And because God is our Creator, He knows of what we are capable, and calls us to seek out His holiness and obey Him.

Rather than telling his disciples that we could do nothing EXCEPT sin, Jesus – the one whom God chose as our example and teacher and anointed as His spokesman – taught them, and through them, us, that we are to be "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48)

And the one who said he did all things that pleased God also said that we must follow him, doing all that he had done. (John 13:15; 14:12)

In saying this, Jesus echoed all the Hebrew prophets who had come before him - because he did not teach anything new about our ability to obey God that was not already known.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, we are assured that God's commandments are, "not too hard for you," and "The word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, SO THAT YOU CAN DO IT." (Deut. 30:11, 14) Isaiah writes, "Wash yourselves, make yourself clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do well." (1:16)

The Psalmist writes: "Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges the earth." (Psalms 58:11)

“He has shown you, O man, what is good," writes Micah (6:8)

We are called upon to "Hate evil, and love good" says Amos (5:15)

"Choose this day whom you will serve," says Joshua (24:15)

"If you choose, you can keep the commandments; and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. Set before you are fire and water; to whatever you choose, stretch out your hand. Before everyone are life and death, whichever they choose will be given them." (Sirach 15:15-17)

Therefore, while sin may be waiting by the door for us, seeking to master us, we may indeed defeat – and master – sinful temptations. We HAVE THAT ABILITY, given to us by our Creator!

If we have damaged this ability because of our past behavior, God will grant us greater moral strength when we ask (Psalm 138:3; Prov. 2:6; James 1:5)

That we have this ability born within us is amazingly good news, because it shows that our Creator knows us, and still gives us the freedom to act and choose to obey Him freely!

Through the teachings of our Master, Jesus, we know that God is like a parent, Who allows His children to make mistakes, repent, and turn back to doing what is right and good.

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.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

#Jesus Left Us A Real Example To Follow #JesusFollowers


"Leaving us an example that you should walk in his steps." 1 Peter 2:21

The very first words of our Savior, which have been preserved for us, contain an expression of the great leading principle, which regulated his whole life. “I must be about my Father's business.” His last words, too, show, that thirty years of fatigue, and danger, and suffering, did not extinguish his zeal in this his work.

"Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” He went out into the world to do something, not for himself, but for his Father, and he devoted himself to it entirely. He was continually engaged in it himself, while he remained here, going from place to place, encountering hardship and danger and suffering, and all without any reference to his own selfish interests, but regarding solely the work he had to do for the salvation of men. 

And at last, when he left the world, his final charge to his disciples was that they should be faithful and persevering in carrying forward this work.

In fact he was so entirely devoted to his Father's business, that half the readers of his life do not imagine, that he had any of his own. But we must not forget that he was a man, with all the feelings, and exposed to all the temptations of men. 

It is surprising how much the example of Christ loses its power over us, simply on account of the absolute perfection of it. 

If he had been partly a lover of pleasure, if he had for instance built himself a splendid mansion, and ornamented his grounds, and devoted some portion of his time to selfish enjoyment there; or if he had entered into political life, and devoted a share of his attention to promoting his own honor, 

And yet if he had torn himself away from these temptations, so as finally to have devoted his chief time and attention to the glory of God and the good of men, than we might have felt that the example he set was within our reach. 

The selfish and worldly spirit, which he would bave exhibited, would, as it were, have made his case come home to us, and whatever fidelity and zeal he might have shown in his work, would have allured us to an imitation of it. 

But as it is, since he gave himself up wholly to his duty, since he relinquished the world altogether, Christians seem to think that his bright example is only, to a very limited extent, an example for them. 

But we must remember that Jesus Christ was a man. His powers were human powers. His feelings were human feelings, and his example is strictly and exactly an example for all the world. 

Still nobody considers him a fair example; at least very few do. Most Christians think that the general principles which regulated his conduct, ought to regulate theirs, but then the most they think of doing is to follow in his steps slowly and hesitatingly, and at a great distance behind.

And there is nothing in which the example of Christ takes less hold of men, than in this leading principle of his conduct – devotedness to his Father's business. How perfectly evident it is, that a very large proportion of professing Christians are doing their own business in this world, and not their Father's. In fact so universal is this sin, that there are great numbers of nominal Christians, who have no idea, no conception whatever, of the ground which Christianity takes in regard to a man's duty. 

It is true you cannot do that. That is, you cannot do your Father's business in the same way precisely, that Christ did. Or, to explain it more fully, God has a great deal of business to be done in this world, and it is of various kinds, and the particular portion allotted to each person, depends upon the circumstances in which each one is placed. 

(Adapted from “The Man Christ Jesus” by Jacob Abbott In “The Corner-Stone,” 1834)

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Our Ability and Duty To Do Good Are Both God-Given #JesusFollowers


God does not oblige us to anything that is either impossible or unreasonable. Consequently, there must be some ways we may distinguish Divine Revelation from all pretenses to it.

His evidences are not irresistible, and God, having made us free Agents, can’t be supposed to destroy His own work; they are sufficient to convince all reasonable Persons who examine them as the weight of their truth.

For what is it that God requires of us? No very hard task, one would think, for it is only a sincere and constant endeavor after our own Perfection.

God has made us Rational and Free Agents, capable of paying a reasonable and voluntary homage to His Majesty, and of enjoying the happy effects of it, He has set before us Good and Evil, Life and Death, and entices us by all the Duty we owe to Him, by all the Gratitude we ought to pay for the most stupendous instance of His Love in our Redemption, and by all the kindness we have for ourselves [to do what is right.]

Was it then unfit for God to adorn His Creation with all imaginable Ranks and Degrees of Being, consequently with Free Agents which is a very noble Order?

Now the difference between a Free and a Necessary Agent consists in this: The Actions of the former, or more properly the Motions of his Mind, are in his own power. He has Ability, as every one of us is aware, to determine them this way or that, according to his own pleasure, and as he is affected b the supposed agreeableness of the objects he pursues. This power or faculty is what we call Liberty, which distinguishes a Free from a Necessary Agent, for this last type does not determine for itself, has no command over its own motions, but is absolutely governed by a foreign cause.

But in whatever Degree of Being a Creature is placed, whether it is a Free or a Necessary Agent, there must be a certain measure of Perfection belonging to its Rank, which it cannot attain but by some certain and stated Progressions or Methods, suitable to the Nature that God has given it, and in the same manner as a Seed becomes a Plant, or a Plant a Tree. Some actions therefore do naturally and necessarily tend to the Perfection of Mankind, and others as naturally and necessarily drag us down into Misery.

If then you will allow that God may create Free Agents, and where I pray is the Injustice of it? Since it can’t be supposed that He lays irresistible restraints upon us, or gives them irresistible impulses, which were to destroy the Nature He has made, and to contradict Himself, consequently all that can be done for us, even by Infinite Power and Goodness, conducted by Infinite Wisdom, is to lure us to good by the vastness of the Pleasure proposed, and to deter them from Evil by the dread of the Pain of separation that is threatened by God.

If God should deprive us of our Liberty and make us Necessary Agents, that is, make us like other Creatures and not human beings, he who is currently unaffected with the Infinite Goodness and Longsuffering of God (which ought to lead him to Repentance) would continue his Impenitency; he who is Unjust, would remain Unjust; and he who is Filthy, would remain that way. Leaving them therefore in their own mire, and to be punished by their own folly. Let us consider the Practical Duties of Christianity, that we may practice as well as believe, all that is required of us in order to gain our Salvation.

Since, therefore, we desire our own Happiness, and God desires it also, and has done so much, even beyond our Modest hopes, in order to grant it, what can hinder it?

(Adapted from a 1717 book by Mary Astell, “The Christian Religion…”)

Sunday, July 9, 2023

The All-Important "Red Letters" of #Jesus' Words #JesusFollowers

In some publications of the Gospels, the words of Jesus are printed in Red ink, while the other words around them were printed in black ink.
It is a unique and clear acknowledgment that his teachings, his words, his commands, are special and unique, set apart from the other words. Which they certainly are.

It is right for us to focus more intensely and more fervently and prayerfully on Jesus' words than the words around them.
After all, we have one Master, and that is Jesus alone. No other man, and no others' words, carry as much weight and have as much value as his words do.

Jesus himself said that everything God, our Creator and Father, told him, he relayed to the disciples (Matt. 15.15.) And Jesus said that our Father was pleased with all that he did (John 8:29, Matt. 12:18, 17:5.)

Since Jesus was so in tune perfectly with our Creator, should we not listen more carefully to what he SAYS? Yes, we should.

In fact, Jesus says that his words will never pass away (Matt. 24:35.) If this is true, should we not listen and obey them?

Please, then, read the Red Letters. Put the into practice in your daily lives. Listen to what Jesus is saying to us.

He is calling upon us to obey his teachings and call others to do so (Matt. 28:20, John 14:15.) His teachings are the only "solid rock" we can build a true and genuine faith upon (Matt. 7:24-26.) His teachings are the final authority by which God will judge us (Matt. 16:27.)

His parables all teach us that we are called by God to perform Good Works.

His Sermon on the Mount teaches us guideposts for a radical Faith when we engage with others, even our enemies.

When Jesus reached out to those in need of Spiritual healing, he taught us to live lives of radical service towards others.

His interactions with the poor, the despised, the hopeless and the diseased teaches us that we must not shun others, but to actively have compassion for them.

He teaches us to live Godly, pure and holy lives, and not to do so to heap praise on ourselves, but to honor our Creator.

His calling out of the religious elites of his day teach us to be bold in our Righteous acts, and not give in to hypocrisy or to claim we are righteous because we use vain words or cling to traditions of churchmen.

His challenging calls to be merciful and live lives of moral perfection teach us that we must avoid a lazy, easy religion, but instead seek to be better, more holy, joyful, and Spiritually Complete (Luke 6:36, Matt. 5:48, John 15:11.)

Jesus calls himself a Prophet, chosen by God at his baptism to be God's spokesman (Mark 6:4, Luke 9:35.) Jesus was sent out into the world by God to teach a message of hope, love and service, and to be an example to us today by his actions and words (Mark 1:38, Luke 18:22.)

We are called to do all the he did, teaching others to obey his commands and bring God's Kingdom onto this earth by our acts of Righteousness, becoming more Godly each and every day.

Let us read the Red Letters, and write Jesus' teachings upon our hearts, so that we may be Lights among others, living as he, himself lived.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

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, its not merely a psychologial process, either, but a practical and real one. It's not a call to medtate on our Vella buttons and dive deep into ourselves.

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

Jesus calls us to achieve, to go the extra mile, 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.