Sunday, August 13, 2017
In the Parable of the Vineyard, Jesus teaches us that God alone is our Judge, not ourselves, and that we should be working for God boldly and without hesitation in the earth's Vineyard.
In the parable, the owner of a vineyard pays workers at the same rate, regardless of how long they worked during the day. Some pointed to this as being unfair, but Jesus stressed that the owner had every right to pay what he chose, and that as long as the terms were clear for every worker, they had no cause to complain.
In ages past, this was seen to represent those who came after Jesus' ministry, and that the Jews (who didn't have that teaching before then) couldn't complain about Christians getting into heaven. This seems to miss several aspects of the story.
If the story teaches about God, and heaven, then it surely teaches that we must work in the vineyard in which we are employed (i.e. the earth, in our own time) and that we are to not judge others' work in it.
If we were to truly be honest, and honestly assess the religion that Jesus points us to, we would fully understand that is not US who determine whether we are going to live eternally in heaven, but God alone who is our judge.
We certainly have been "saved" from a life of aimless sinfulness and unrighteousness by coming to know the example Jesus sets for us. But whether we are allowed into heaven is based upon what we do with that knowledge - and God alone judge that.
In fact, it is none of our business, but God's business alone, where our spirits reside eternally.
Once we understand this, we can let go of the arrogance that leads us to say that we alone are "saved" for Heaven, and that all others are not, simply based upon our own self-selection, and based on criteria most often invented by human beings, not God.
God Himself has set the conditions for our salvation, and we are assured by His spokesman Jesus that He will be merciful - more merciful than those who seek to judge us and our beliefs as "unworthy."
Just as those religious elites in Jesus' time set the bar high for those who sought to serve God - and who claimed that God wouldn't let certain people into heaven - today, people say those who don't believe in their man-made doctrines will not be allowed entry by God into eternal life.
We may rightly reject those who make such claims, based on Jesus' own words and experience. And we must be wary when those who are making such claims ignore all of Jesus' teachings or demean them as "unimportant" or irrelevant to our own times and lives.
And the teachings of Jesus call us to simply act righteously, humbly and with compassion, putting others' needs ahead of our own.
Jesus calls us not to judge others' actions, or determine their worthiness, or even our own. Instead, he calls us to act in a way that conforms ever more closely to his perfect example.
Those who say we need not enter the Vineyard of Good Works, and instead may simply cry out "Lord, Lord" on the sidelines so that we may instantly demand eternal life from God, are like those who complained that the owner of the Vineyard was being unfair.
It is not for them, or us, to say what is unfair, but God alone, who gracefully accepts whom He chooses. And God has given us a perfect example by which we may model our lives, so that we have no excuse for not seeking after it.
Rev. Henry W. Bellows said once,"The Gospel calls us to redeem the time, employ our talents, exercise our affections, multiply our sympathies, and work ceaselessly in the vineyard of our Master."
We are simply called by God - and the man God chose as His spokesman and our example, Jesus - to take ACTION. God alone will determine whether we have acted well. Not others, not ourselves, but God alone.
So let us boldly and without hesitation serve others in the Vineyard in which we are called to work: our homes, workplaces and communities!
Sunday, August 6, 2017
More than anything else, following the path that Jesus sets out for us means serving other's first.
Contrary to nearly Universal popular opinion, accepting the way of Jesus is not primarily a self-centered means by which we can personally get ourselves into heaven, or to simply enrich ourselves here on earth.
In fact, the teachings of Jesus tell us explicitly that those who seek to be first, and that those who seek personal gain above others, will be last in God's Kingdom.
"Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:27-28)
"The greatest among you shall be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matt. 23:11-12)
"And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 8:39)
God, our Father and the Creator of all things, has chosen this man, Jesus, to be our perfect example in all things, showing us of what we are capable.
We are called through the example of Jesus to seek to do righteousness, to forgive others just as God forgives us, to be good examples to others, and to bring God's Heavenly Kingdom into the Earth through our daily actions.
This, and this alone, is the kingdom that Jesus preached, and we should seek everyday to conform ourselves to it.
It's clear that Jesus calls us all to a life of action and Good Works on behalf of others. Every one of our actions in our daily lives should show to others how God wishes humanity to relate to one another and to our Creator.
We are called to act selflessly, in the service of others. And Jesus left us a template by which we can act as God wishes us to act here on this earth.
We are called, not to judge, or to only mouth praise to God or to Jesus, nor to hope someone else acts, but we are ourselves called to act righteously and justly in our dealings with others.
The example of Jesus - a human being like ourselves - shows us that we are ABLE to act, and have from birth the moral ability to act, on behalf of others. And it is our duty to do so, without excuse.
Feed the hungry; clothe the naked; comfort the sick; welcome the stranger; visit those in prison. (Matt. 25:31-39) Jesus never shirked his duty to serve others, even washing the feet of the disciples as a sign of his humility and how he was living as a "ransom" to others. (John 13)
When others teach, and preach, that we can serve OURSELVES first, or that we may enrich ourselves without caring for others, or that God can be used exclusively to grant our material, selfish desires, it becomes easy to forget who our Master is, and that because we have one Master and one Teacher (Matt. 23:8-10) Jesus' words alone are to be our pathway to the life God wishes us to live.
Jesus calls us to follow his example in all things. Let us commit to doing this, collectively as followers of Jesus and on our own in our daily lives.
Sunday, July 30, 2017
There is no truth more clearly taught in in the scriptures than this: that God will render to every man according to his deeds. The scriptures contain scores of passages which teach us that God will bring every work into judgement, whether it be good or whether it be evil.
Being accountable to God for our actions, those who set His laws at defiance are justly deserving of a punishment, and can be sure of their reward.
In relation to the native characters of human beings, we all came into the world pure; that is, free from any innate depravity, and are born into the world without a moral character; we neither possess any positive virtue, nor actual vice; but we inherit a nature which is capable of both. We cannot believe a God of infinite mercy would bring His own offspring into being under a load of hereditary guilt.
We also cannot admit that infants in all ages are "liable to the pains of hell forever," in consequence of the sin of our first parents – a sin committed without their knowledge or agency, and thousands of years before they had a being.
The scriptures teach us that infants are free from moral defilement. Our Savior took up little children in his arms and blessed them, and pronounced them heirs of his kingdom. But if they had been totally depraved, filled with all that is evil, would he have taken them up in his arms and blessed them? Had they been embryos of hell, as they are frequently represented, Jesus would not have pronounced them heirs of his kingdom. Again, our Master says, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:3)
With these, and several other passages before us, we are constrained to believe that we are born into the world pure. The doctrine of imputation appears to be cruelly unjust. Every man is accountable for himself, and for himself alone. The scriptures assure us that, "the father shall not bear the iniquity of the son, nor the son the iniquity of the father." (Ezek. 18:20)
Such passages entirely destroy the doctrine of imputation. All who arrive at years of understanding are depraved in some degree, but their depravity is of their own making.
How is it possible to transfer the guilt of Adam's sin to me? I cannot be criminal, unless I have a consciousness of committing the act, and I cannot have this consciousness of committing the act, unless I have in fact committed it; and if I have in fact committed the sin, it ceases to be Adam's, and becomes my own.
The doctrine of total depravity appears to impeach both the wisdom and goodness of the Deity. If we are the subjects of this total corruption, the revelation which God has given us would be useless. If God requires all to love him, was it wise of Him to give us a nature which would forever prevent our compliance?
The scriptures assure that God will punish sin. But does it not infringe upon His goodness to say He will punish us for our sins which the nature He gave us compels us to perform?
There is no truth more sacred than this: that we are accountable for our actions, just as far as we have an ability to perform our duty, and no farther. Whenever you limit our ability to do good, there our accountability ceases.
We must contend for moral virtue. I object to the contemptuous manner in which some speak of morality. Some denounce moral excellence as "dry morality," and insinuate that it is akin to infidelity. If moral goodness is the fruit of infidelity, then give us infidelity in preference to that Christianity which teaches us to slight virtuous actions.
We may perform good actions from bad motives. In such a case, there is no moral worth in such an act. But if we perform good actions from benevolent motives, they are in the exercise of practical Christianity. Whoever does to others as they desire them to do to him, obeys the requirement of the religion of Jesus.
"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father," (James 1:27) consists in gratitude to God, good will to others, and watchfulness over our own conduct.
If we do not exercise charity one to another; if we do not deal justly with our fellow creatures, our religion is of a spurious kind. As Christians, it is our duty to correct our own faults, rather than point out those of others.
We should so favor excellence of character, so that all preaching ought to be directed to this one object, namely, to make people better. Religion in theory should not be valued as much as in practice. Further, religion has no value unless it effects the conduct and renders people virtuous and good. Not that theoretical religion doesn’t have worth, but its value lies entirely in its influence upon the mind and the heart.
That system of doctrines which does not exert an influence over the person is useless. Every scheme, therefore, which is made up of cold speculations which cannot warm the affections, or of inexplicable mysteries which no mortal can comprehend, is not worth professing.
(Adapted from a Sermon by Rev. Charles Hudson, 1795-1881)
Sunday, July 23, 2017
The life, teachings and death of Jesus inspire us to follow Jesus' example.
Jesus had the fullness of his Father’s spirit; and we have also a portion of the same. This puts all the children of men on equal ground, and makes Jesus our Pattern.
His example becomes the point after which we are to aspire; for his righteousness must be the criterion of judgment; because arrived at perfect obedience, doing in all things that for which he was sent by his Father, Jesus has shown by his example that all are able to obey God.
Jesus was made a perfect example to us, to show to us that for the testimony of God our creator, we must be willing, as Jesus was, to surrender up everything unto God; and to do his will in everything, even if it cost us our natural lives. For if we are brought into the situation that he was in, that we cannot save our natural lives without giving up the testimony that God has called us to bear, we have his example not to do it, though we may feel as he did, that it is a great trial.
We have it now on record. We need only take up the precepts of Jesus, only look at his example, and his direction to his disciples, and see if we can find anything, any testimony worthy to be compared with it.
What is true religion? It consists entirely in righteousness, that righteousness which is acceptable in the sight of God. It unites us with God, as it did his blessed Son, and brings us to partake of his holy nature, and we become one with him – as the disciples formerly were declared to be partakers of the divine nature.
Until we do everything in our power, by every means put in our hands, we shall not find support from God! There are no sins so great, in this probationary, earthly state, our Father would not stand ready to forgive, if we turn to Him with full purpose of heart and acknowledge our transgressions.
He gives us the grace of repentance, and enables us so to walk as to be reconciled to Him, and gain a greater establishment in Himself, and in the truth, than when we first came out of His creating hands.
(Adapted from an 1826 sermon by Elias Hicks)
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Why was Jesus born? And what was the purpose of his life and ministry?
Was he born simply as a bag of flesh, destined only to later die as a ritual sacrifice that would appease an angry god and "cover" our future sins with his remote and perfect goodness, if we simply believed he existed?
We find nothing in his words to suggest that scenario, despite the popularity of this misguided belief.
Or, instead, did God choose this righteous man to spread a good and beneficial message and to be our perfect example of how God wishes us to live? Jesus' own words suggest this is far closer to the Truth, such as when he says, "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I WAS SENT FOR THIS PURPOSE” (Luke 4:43.)
Jesus' ministry and life's message was entirely focused on this Kingdom of God - the ideal realm of Heaven that Jesus said should be made a reality here on earth, "as it is in Heaven" (Matt. 6:10.) That this is a spiritual and not a temporal one is also clear from his own words (John 18:36.)
It's a kingdom in which we are called to be righteous, merciful, and complete ("perfect") just as God is (Matt. 5:20, 5:48, Luke 6:36) and just as the man Jesus - whom God chose as his spokesman - modeled for us with the example of his selfless life and death (John 13:15; 1 John 2:6.)
"Seek first the Kingdom of God" he tells us (Matt. 6:33.) He warns us to not store up treasure on earth that can rust or rot away, but to instead seek Heavenly treasure that lasts forever (Matt. 6:19-20.)
He calls us to love our Creator with ALL of our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30) and to not only love our neighbors as we love ourselves (12:31) but extend that love and compassion to strangers we encounter on the roadside and to even our enemies (Matt. 5:44.)
Long ignored by Christian ministers as quaint or out-of-date, Jesus' call to "whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" (Matt. 7:12) summaries his entire ministry and the Hebrew Bible's teaching.
In all of this, we see that our actions matter. We will be judged according to our deeds (Matt. 16:27) and our eternal life in God's presence will be determined by our acts, not our vain words (Matt. 6:7.)
We are called to "remain in his love," and we may do this by obeying him and following after his example.
"If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commandments and remain in his love," he tells us (John 15:10.)
Jesus makes it clear that entrance into this Kingdom is NOT without commitment on our part. It's not a wide gate the entire world will choose (Matt. 7:13.) Only those who DO the will of God, our Father, will gain entry to it (Matt 7:21.)
The teachings Jesus left us are the most valuable legacy we can inherit. His words will never pass away (Mark 13:31.)
The death of Jesus was a continuation of his life – his message of extreme self-sacrifice and love for others, and a voluntary act of devotion to both his "friends" and to God. Who are his friends? Those who do as he commands (John 15:12-14.) Those who would make his death into a magical charm that gives them a "get out of jail free" card so they can continue to sin and forgo Good Works are degrading and spitting on Jesus' cross, not honoring it.
And those who are quick to say "Lord, Lord!" but forget it means "Master, Master!" should remember that by claiming Jesus as our Master and God's representative, we must obey his teachings, not just praise his name.
The words, life, teachings and death of our Master, Jesus, challenge us to do, to act, to follow, to serve, to be better, to do more, to try harder, to be humble yet Righteous, to serve God not money, to lose ourselves, but gain eternity.
This is a faith worth having and a Master worth serving - a faith that bring us life, and life more abundantly (John 10:10.) Those who would throw it away by minimizing and glossing over Jesus' words are throwing God's Kingdom away, and this is one thing all who love God must never do.
Sunday, July 9, 2017
We all have our own ideas about what it means to pray to God, and how to do it. But as followers of Jesus, we should be looking towards him and his words for guidance, and when we do, we might be surprised what he has to say.
"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Note: the Greek word here for “reward” means “wages.”)
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”
“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:5-12)
Jesus clearly spells out a few things we must bear in mind when praying:
1. We should not be praying in public – in church gatherings or street corners – in order to be seen as pious.
2. We should pray in secret. The words for “room” (elsewhere “closet”) means a secret storeroom where people of his time would go to be in private. Where better to seek the infinite storeroom of God’s spiritual strength!
3. We must not heap up many empty phrases because we think God hears us better when we use a lot of words.
4. God knows what we need before we ask.
5. Jesus gives us a simple prayer by which we can express our gratitude to God and our acknowledgement of Him.
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.
But asking for cold hard cash (or a new car, or a raise, or a companion of the opposite sex) from the Creator of the Universe is 180 degrees from what Jesus taught us to do.
He also said God already knows what we need, so we should not raise up endless words to God, as the pagans do. That seems to be good "advice" from our Master, Jesus, doesn't it?
So, bearing in mind that Jesus repeatedly tells us to seek spiritual things, and not material things, and that the poor will be, and are, blessed, and that the rich will find it extremely difficult to inherit eternal life with God, why would we spend time praying for riches?
Why, indeed, would we pray for ourselves, our own material needs, or our own self-gratification, when Jesus says God doesn't favor any of us in particular?
Why would we send up words of petition to God demanding material goods, when we know that is not what God sends?
Why pray for special, material, favors, when we know God shows no partiality and cannot be bribed with our words (Deut. 10:17) and that it rains both on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45)?
Why pray that Nature obey our whims, when we know that God isn’t in the storms or natural disasters (1 King 19:11-12) but in the caring and loving response to them when we are damaged by them?
Why send up many, many vain and repetitious prayers when Jesus tells us God does not listen to them?
To seek ANY material things that will rust and become moth-eaten from our Creator seems to make God very small and petty. Lucky for us, God isn't a Genie, or a magician, or our personal doorman, holding open or slamming shut doors on a whim, known only to Him.
And to make God into a master manipulator or puppet master makes this life meaningless and pointless. God granted us the freedom to do good or to turn our backs on Him and do evil.
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 Jesus, the one God has anointed as His Son and Prophet, 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.
Sunday, July 2, 2017
Our Master’s descriptions of the conditions of salvation are not abstract and formal, but concrete and realistic. The first word in Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom was, "Repent" (Mark 1:15).
But not only must we repent; we must turn (Matt. 17:3) — turn away from the old life, and in humility and self-surrender take up the life of obedience to God.
Men must become as little children in humility and trustfulness, must take his yoke of instruction and discipline upon them, must bear his cross of sacrifice and service, must do the will of the Father, must take up the duties of membership in his Kingdom and cultivate the virtues required by its law, must become like the Father himself whose perfection is love.
Such are some of the principal ways in which Jesus spoke of salvation. We must become and live as God's true sons, obedient to His will, trustful in His care, morally like Him in motive and purpose.
Jesus had no favorite formula by which he expressed the nature and conditions of salvation, such, for example, as justification by faith. While popular and theological terminology for the discussion of the subject of Salvation is scriptural, it is derived much more largely from the language of others than from that of Jesus himself.
But Jesus did not analyze the process of attaining salvation nor define its various steps and stages.
Faith is the positive counterpart of repentance. In the parable of the Lost Son, penitence is illustrated in the prodigal's remorse and misery; faith is the resolution and act of returning to his home and his father.
He pictured the Father's house as standing open, and the Father's heart as ready and waiting to receive the wandering, lost son. It lay within the power of that erring son to forsake his evil life and escape it by returning to his Father with a penitent and obedient heart.
Jesus viewed his teaching and example as saving in their effect upon us. He sought by these means to strengthen in us our desires and efforts for a better life – the life of Sonship to God, which is salvation.
He presented a conception of God which was attractive and adapted to move the heart to penitence for sin and to gratitude and obedience. He illustrated the Godlike life among men in his benevolent works, in his sympathy with suffering, and in the encouragement which he gave to every good aspiration and endeavor.
He set the highest value upon small deeds, if done from love or pity, and declared that he who even received into his favor a righteous man because he was a righteous man, should receive a righteous man's reward.
The life of Jesus, with its various expressions of itself in word and act, was a powerful saving agency in his time, and still remains such. The teaching of Jesus gives us no warrant to speak so slightingly as is commonly done of his “mere” example.
Let us not minimize by silence or by qualifying words what Jesus placed in the very forefront of his message to mankind; the declaration that the door of God's Kingdom stood open before them so they might enter then and there if they would, and that he had come to show them the way.
I am the world's light; by me men know the Father, God's Kingdom is in your midst - by such words as these Jesus announced a present salvation, available at the moment, and himself as the guide to its realization.
Adapted from a 1917 Sermon by Rev. George Barker Stevens