Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Gospel Is Simple #JesusFollowers

The simplicity of the Christian doctrine concerning God and His Christ is a great theme of the Gospel.

Simplicity is in itself a beauty and excellence. It gives us clear ideas, and assists our comprehension of a subject. The simplicity of the Gospel corresponds and agrees with the works of nature; in which there is no vain show or useless magnificence; though there is united with it, through the whole creation, a wonderful sublimity and grandeur.

The simplicity of the Gospel combines the belief in the unity of God and contemplation of His supreme, unrivaled perfection with the belief in the humanity of Christ, his authority as the Divine’s prophet and universal Savior, and his awesome dignity as the judge of all men.

Concerning the person of Christ, is it not a clear and satisfactory conclusion, that his perfect humanity is as essential and fundamental an article of our faith, as that there is one God, the Father, announced under the Old Testament as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and then as Yahweh, of the Jews; and in the New Testament, as the God and Father of our Master, Jesus Christ?

The simplicity of the Gospel, in its doctrine concerning the humanity of Christ, helps the imagination to contemplate the man Christ Jesus living and dying like us, which is calculated to affect the senses, and move the heart. It is more adapted to our feelings and condition, it is more encouraging and consolatory than can be any idea of him being an abstract invisible object, a creature in his powers and dignity placed at an immeasurable height above us.

The simplicity of the Gospel, with respect to the rule of life it lays down, and the doctrine of another life, is suitable to its nature. It is designed to be the religion of the unlearned as well as the learned, to be preached to the poor and the wayfaring man.

The consideration that Jesus was a man, in a word, makes the whole history of his ministry clear and consistent: it gives energy and beauty to his example, as that of our elder brother, one in our nature, tempted as we are.

It shows the propriety and value of his reward; not as a recovery of glory that had been laid aside, nor as a reinstatement in former dignity, but as an acquisition of new honor and power: and its usefulness, as a model of the reward promised to us, if, as he overcame, we also overcome the temptations that try us.

The appropriate dignity and authority of Jesus Christ, in his relation to the human race, arises not from his having been the Creator of the world, and from having possessed super-angelic perfection and glory before all ages, but from his being the sent by God, the minister of divine mercy, and the Messiah.

Persevere in your efforts to serve the cause of pure Christianity. Let, however, your endeavors to promote the spread and reception of doctrinal truths, be always accompanied with, and be always subservient to, an ardent zeal in the cause of vital religion and pious virtue.

What is speculation without practice? What are the clearest notions in the head without virtue in the heart arid life? What is the knowledge of God, and of his Christ, without obedience? Let us be ourselves exemplary in the Christian temper and conduct.

Adapted from the writings of Rev. Joshua Toulmin, 1810

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Jesus’ Only Creed Was Love #JesusFollowers

The means by which Jesus relied to bring the world to the knowledge of his doctrine was the union and oneness of his disciples, and of all believers, for which he prayed, “Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, just as we are one.” (John 17:11)

Contrast this with the means by which our ministers are exerting to proselyte the world, are to frighten their hearers with the most awful apprehensions of everlasting torments in the invisible world; and thereby to induce them to raise funds to bear their expenses in frightening the rest of mankind! In these means, and in these alone, are they united!

Numerous creeds have been drawn up by councils, venerable, in the world's estimation, for their profound learning, deep study, and great piety. These wise productions have widely varied from each other, and generally contain the greatest contradictions in themselves.

So deep and profound have been their mysteries, that the learned doctors of the church have found it necessary to write volumes to explain them to the common people.

But the common people can no better understand these explanations, than they can the contradictions in the creeds themselves. We certainly owe it to ourselves to ask why these numerous, and conflicting, and contradictory creeds have been written. 

Was it to make divine truth plainer than it is as expressed in the words which the Father gave to the Son, and which the Son gave to his disciples? If the creeds which men have written, make the doctrine of the Savior no plainer, no easier to be understood, than do the words of Jesus, there seems to be no need of their having been written at all.

It is a fact which ought to be seriously regarded, that the example of writing creeds was never set by Jesus or his apostles. Yet no author ever expressed a single tenet more plainly than he expressed all which is necessary for us to believe.

Do we desire to know the disposition of our heavenly Father towards us; and our duty to each other? And do we desire to understand the real difference between what the wisdom of God teaches on these important points, and that which is taught by man's imperfect wisdom?

All this we have in the following words: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, so you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.”

“If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don't even the tax collectors do the same? If you only greet your friends, what more do you do than others? Don't even the tax collectors do the same? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:43-48.)

If Jesus had intended to express the universal love of God to mankind, how could he have expressed it more plainly and clearly than he did in these passages?

Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Hosea Ballou, given in Concord, NH, Sept. 20, 1832

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Jesus: A Leader and Example We Can Follow! #JesusFollowers

Jesus came as a messenger of peace. He came to bear witness to the truth. And the truth to which he came to bear witness, was the truth of the covenant which God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And you will perceive that Jesus has borne the same testimony to the world that God proclaimed to Abraham. He proves to us that God is love. 

And you will perceive that Jesus has borne the same testimony to the world that God proclaimed to Abraham. He proves to us, that God is love. “You have heard that it has been said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ (This is the old-fashioned doctrine, which Jesus came to condemn.) “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:43-45)

Now what is the sum of all this testimony? It is, that God loves all on whom the sun shines and the rain descends.

And remember, when you see the sunshine, and when joy and animation are around you, that as truly as the sun shines, God loves us.

And when you see the rain descend, and when with rapturous emotions you behold its refreshing influences, remember that as truly as the rain descends, God loves us. 

Until you can find partiality in the sunshine and rain, never allow yourselves to believe that there is partiality in the love of God.

The whole that Jesus spoke and performed in the world, his death, and his resurrection to life and immortality, was but to make known that which was true before. The Scriptures declare, that “life and immortality were brought to light through the Gospel.”

Mark the expression – “brought to light,” not created. All this was as true before the coming of Jesus, as it has been since. But “when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.” Fervently may we exclaim, “Glory to God in the highest; on earth peace, good will to men!”

Wherever he went, it is safe for us to go. “He went about doing good.”  Do you desire to know how to think and act as Jesus thought and acted? Look at his example, and follow in his steps. Do you meet with opposition and persecution in your religious devotions? Jesus met with the same - and he treated it with kindness and affection.

And how did he treat his enemies, even in the last moments of his life? He prayed for them! “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” Surely, this was the Son of God! Surely in him we have a leader whom we can safely follow. Let his spirit always be ours; and let the light of his example continually direct our steps - for the Lord gave him as “a leader to the people.”

If you refuse to walk in his footsteps, you will tread the thorny road of iniquity - but if you follow him as your leader, he will lead you to the pastures of his love. If you disobey his commandments, you will find wretchedness and woe - but if you obey him from the heart, you will discover that "the work of righteousness is peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever.”

Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Hosea Ballou, given Nov. 2, 1834

Sunday, January 29, 2017

What #JesusFollowers Believe

Many Christians throughout the ages have spoken aloud and put down in writing what they believe. And it is good to know what one believes, if you believe it strongly.

But many Christians today can no longer believe what was believed in darker ages, in creeds written by men influenced by their previous pagan philosophies and by men and teachings other than those of Jesus. This has led millions to abandon God and turn their backs on Jesus himself. That's a tragedy!

The emerging #JesusFollowers organization has been seeking for a while now to lay out an alternative path, one that follows the teachings of Jesus alone, influenced only by the moral teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures, which had certainly influenced him.

So, let’s take a moment to lay out some principles on which a new Church can be founded, and one in which Jesus is put ahead of all others.

Following Jesus, we love God and Serve Others, Working Righteousness.

We follow Jesus Alone – The words and teachings of Jesus, not any other teacher, savior or man, are the core of our beliefs.

Jesus is God's Chosen, Adopted, and Anointed Spokesman – God set Jesus apart from other men, Anointing and Adopting him as a special spokesman at his baptism.

Jesus teaches us to repent from sin, and follow God – Repentance (turning away) from actions that separate us from God was the core of Jesus' teachings and ministry.

Jesus is our perfect moral example in life and death – The life, teachings and death of Jesus inspire us to follow Jesus' example.

Jesus teaches us to selflessly love God and others completely – 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.

Jesus challenges us to do Works of Righteousness – We are called upon by Jesus to do Righteous deeds, by which we will be judged by God, and which bring about God's Kingdom on earth. The Gospel challenges us to do better, be more than what we were, to seek Righteousness through Good Works.

And to seek God's forgiveness when we stumble – We will not immediately become perfect when we start (and continue) to follow Jesus' example and teachings. But when we forgive others who sin against us, we are forgiven by God for falling short of His goals.

God gave us Reason and the ability to obey Him – Reason is a God-given gift we use to discern His will, and we are fully able to follow Jesus' challenge to live our lives for God. We have no excuses.

God, Our Father, is One God – God (the God of Israel and of Jesus) is One God, not many – eternal and completely indivisible. God’s spirit comforts us but is not a separate Being to be worshiped.

God speaks through Jesus and the wisdom of Hebrew Scriptures – The Hebrew Bible and the words of Jesus, interpreted through Reason, faith and discernment, are our guide and comfort, and God speaks to us through these writings.

God gives us spiritual gifts: wisdom, love and moral strength – When we speak to God, God encourages us to obey Him and the one whom He sent, Jesus. God does not promise material wealth or perfect health, but gives freely His wisdom, love and moral and spiritual strength.

To build God's Kingdom here on Earth, as in Heaven – We are called to build up God's Kingdom here on earth, as it is in Heaven.

We yearn to live with God forever – When we persevere in our Faith, doing what we are called to do by God and His Servant, Jesus, and humbly rely on God's forgiveness when we falter, we may live with God eternally, but this is God’s decision to judge us, not for us to judge ourselves, nor for others should judge us.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Jesus: A Witness to the Truth! #JesusFollowers

The office and work of a witness is to make known the truth, not to those who already know it, but to those who are not in possession of the knowledge of it.

When a witness is called into any of our courts of justice, it is in order that he may bring to our knowledge facts and circumstances which have a bearing on the case in hand, that those who are judges in the matter may obtain the information that is necessary to form correct judgment.

A witness is not expected to make anything true that is not true before his testimony is heard. No person supposes that the testimony of any witness will make that true which is not true. A faithful witness testifies only to facts which are true before his testimony is given.

Christ, the Savior of the world, in the character of a witness, makes nothing known to the children of men but what was true before he came into the world. Every point of doctrine that Jesus taught to the people, was just as true before he came, as it has been since.

Every divine promise contained in the Scriptures relating to the gift of everlasting salvation, and in reference to being blessed by God forever, were just as true before Jesus proclaimed them to the world as they are now.

The Messiah came in the character, and to do the work, of a witness - to make that known which was true before he came. As I have already remarked, a witness comes to show that which was true before his testimony is heard, and not to make something true by merely testifying to its existence.

According to the views of many Christians, the truth of the whole scheme of man's salvation depends entirely upon our believing it! This is another error. They seem to suppose that the thing to be believed, is not true until it is believed. Now, common sense teaches us better than this.

We know that believing a thing does not make it true, neither does disbelieving a thing make it false.

The truth of the case is as the laws of Nature have established it. Would your unbelief prevent the sun from rising? Would your unbelief make any difference as to the matter? Yes, just as much difference as it would in regard to the simple truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; but all the unbelief that ever existed, or ever will exist, can never make it false.

From a Sermon by Hosea Ballou, Nov. 2, 1834

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The 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, January 8, 2017

Denying Ourselves Leads To A Noble Life #JesusFollowers

Jesus calls on us to “deny yourself, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24.) This goes against much of what we have been led to believe by our culture, which teaches self-love, self-esteem, building up the self, serving the self, and self-centeredness. These are the cornerstones of modern society. We must focus on LOVING ourselves, we’re told.

And yes, on a certain level, we must be at peace with, and love, ourselves. We cannot HATE our existence, we shouldn’t overly despise our bodies, or be so self-critical that we can’t bear to leave our homes in the morning or face others with confidence.

If we went to this extreme, we would live miserable, hopeless lives, and we would likely seek to put an end to ourselves through violent suicide.

But thankfully, Jesus doesn’t call us to hold ourselves in contempt, or to hate ourselves (in an all-consuming, metaphysical sense) and certainly doesn’t want us to be either miserable or suicidal.

Jesus didn’t teach in order to shame us, or to convince us that it was impossible for us to achieve the moral perfection he achieved. While Jesus pointed out individual faults, he never hinted at a collective human inability that keeps us from obeying God’s will.

Instead, his teachings were always encouraging, always loving, always challenging. He plainly and clearly called upon us to reach the very same ideals HE, HIMSELF had reached towards and achieved.

Jesus teaches that we can and must seek to become BETTER, morally perfect Beings, devoted to loving and serving others.

His amazing teachings reveal that we can be JUST AS PERFECT as he was during his life, and that since he was as morally perfect as God was, we, too, must be perfect, “Just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48) and that we will do all that Jesus, himself had done (John 13:15; 14:12.)

Jesus did not have a low view of human Nature, but he did believe that our choices strengthen and grow our Nature, and from that Nature, we would either serve and love others, or reject them, and serve only ourselves.

Only serving and loving others completely and without reservation is the Way of God’s Kingdom that Jesus said we must seek if we were to live up to God’s Ideals.

We are told by Jesus to build a treasury with our thoughts, and out of that Treasure we would bring either good, or bad – either great things, or greatly evil things (Matt. 12:35; Luke 6:45.) Our hearts aren’t naturally evil, or even naturally good, but what we do, says Jesus, makes our hearts one way or another. And from them flows goodness or badness. We get to choose.

The house that we build by following Jesus’ teachings, he says, is being built on a solid, rocky foundation, and it doesn't budge when trials come. If we fail to build it on his teachings, it’s built on shifting sand. His teachings, therefore, are of vital importance to knowing, and following, Jesus (Matt. 7:24-27.)

And that brings us back to this: Jesus told us to deny ourselves.

By denying ourselves – by denying selfishness, and instead living an Other-centered life – we begin living as Jesus calls us to live. By denying ourselves, we aren't doing violence to the nobility of our nature, or denying anything that would bring us greater joy. Instead, following Jesus will transform our holiest ideals into reality.

The life and example of Jesus is the culmination and perfection of human nature, and if we wish to know how perfect we can be, we must seek to not only envision or admire Jesus - the fully human being whom God chose to be our perfect moral guide and example - but we must put Jesus' example into practice in our own lives.

We must be willing to seek to walk just as Jesus himself walked (1 John 2:6.)

If we wish to transform our common, routine lives into something noble we should deny ourselves, and live for others - those who most need our help, love and comfort. If our goals are both Godly and humane, and if serving others is our one ambition, this will lead to the transformation of our lives, and make us truly and fully human, just as Jesus was!

Our lives become holy and noble when our life's goal is to serve others. Jesus calls us to live RICH and full lives - lives rich in service, rich in all-consuming love and devotion to others. Our lives are to be living prayers to God, our Creator and Father, who calls us, thru the example of Jesus, to bring God's Kingdom into the earth, one Righteous Act at a time!