Sunday, May 31, 2020
Why are we here on the earth? What is our purpose in this life? For millions, these questions haunt their existence and trouble their souls. But there is a Way we can follow that answers these questions.
For those who call Jesus their Master, and seek to follow him and his path, the answers come easier.
WHAT should we do with our lives? Jesus tells us that we're here to love God and love others, and serve God and serve others, and do so with all of our strength.
Jesus said we should seek to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit those in prison, and comfort the widow and orphan. (Matt. 25)
HOW do we do this? We can begin by doing it by committing ourselves and then... by actually starting to do what God calls us to do by following the example of His chosen Son, Jesus. By Repenting - committing to that kind of change, and asking God for forgiveness for past misdeeds and lack of love we've shown - that starts this process.
This LOVE - Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves - isn't the same weak "love" we use to tell others that we "love" chocolate, or salsa. It's a deep, complicated love, and it will take a lifetime to perfect.
A final question is CAN we do this? This level of service and love, for some, doesn't come easy. But we can be assured that we have the ability within us to do what is right and what is good because God says we can do it, and created us with the ability to do all that He asks of us.
We can find verification of God's expectations for humanity by looking to the Hebrew Scriptures.
God told Adam, the proverbial first man, that he could do what was right. He later told Adam's son, Cain, that he could do what was right, too, if he chose to do so.
Both Adam and Cain had the inborn freedom to choose. The fact that in these cases they both chose to do what was wrong with their choice means they, alone, were punished for it.
Perhaps that is why these stories were included in the Hebrew Bible, so we would know that we had a true choice.
In Deuteronomy, we learn that God assures human beings that His commandments are, "not too hard for you," and that God's moral law is "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." Isaiah say God has no doubt that human beings can, "cease to do evil, and learn to do good." (1:16)
And many have read the verse in Joshua, in which he says, "choose this day whom you will serve," (Joshua 24:15) The choice remains with us to choose to serve God.
Jesus is completely consistent with the Hebrew Bible in his belief in our ability to do what God asks.
Our Teacher and Master said he did all things that pleased God (John 8:28). He also said we could do all that he did, telling us that we are to be "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (John 14:12, Matt. 5:48)
Jesus has high expectations for us, and leaves us no indication that he was joking when he said we could achieve what he, himself achieved.
If we need courage and encouragement to serve others, we should start by reflecting on the gifts we've been given by God, our Creator, including the inspiring, perfect moral life of Jesus, and seek to follow that path perfectly, seeking God's forgiveness when we stumble or fall short.
Jesus taught that if we call him our Master, we must seek to follow him, doing all that he had done. (John 13:15; 1 John 2:4-6) Based on his teachings, we definitely have the ability to do great good, if we choose to take up his path and seek to do Righteousness, as he did. It's the choosing that can be hard sometimes, and we will stumble in our efforts, but that does not diminish our ability to do the good, which is God-given.
Just as Jesus frequently did, we may call upon God in prayer for further strength, and be assured that we may obtain it. As James, his brother, wrote, we can always seek greater wisdom from God. (James 1:5)
So, Jesus said we were able to do what was right. He believed that God gave us the ability to stand tall before Him, with willing hands to serve others and bring forth God's Kingdom here on earth.
It only remains for us to pick up the challenge Jesus lays down for us, and begin doing this in his name.
Sunday, May 24, 2020
We are sent into Life, not to sit still only, or to take a vacation here, but to work and be industrious, in order to be useful in it.
For, if we are sent here by a Being of infinite Wisdom, our errand, we may be sure, must not only be worthy of His own Perfections, but suited to the Powers He has given us, and the situation in which He has placed us.
We cannot imagine that He should intend us to be the only idle, unserviceable parts of His creation, must less can we suppose Him, after preparing our bodies admirably fitted for action and use, to leave us at liberty to apply these exquisite pieces of workmanship either to no use, or even worse than no use.
Least of all would He have taught us more than the beasts of the earth, and made us wiser than the fouls of Heaven, so that such superior endowments would be lost in an insignificant round of sitting down to eat and to drink, then rising up to play.
We are not, therefore, our own. We received our existence from God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, and on Him we depend. He, who entrusts us with this and all our talents, will assuredly one day reckon with us for our use of them.
Our whole frame and constitution, that freedom of Agency, with which we feel ourselves endued, that progressive state of which we are conscious, that apprehension we naturally have as a superior Observer, above all, the notices given us by our Judge Himself, in short, all things conspire in proclaiming that we must give an account for ourselves to Him Who sent us.
In the Evening of a life spent in doing his LORD's Will, with that serenity may the faithful Servant wait for His coming! In constant readiness to open to Him immediately, and in humble confidence that his reward is with Him.
We serve a Master by whom well-meaning Merit (and with Him sincere endeavors are accepted for Merit) shall not be forgotten; and in whose Work, if we are only steadfast and unmovable and to the best of our Abilities always abounding, our Labor shall not be in vain.
Let us work our work, and in His time He, by whom we are employed, will assuredly give us our full Reward.
I have only to add, what must not be omitted in treating this Subject, that our own Strength is small. But so far should the foregoing reflection be from damping our resolution, or excusing our inactivity, that it is at once a most awful and most animating incitement to work out our own Salvation with fear and trembling.
We are exhorted to walk as He walked: If, in particular, He has by His meekness in suffering left us an Example: Well may we encourage one another to follow His steps, who went about Doing Good, working the works of Him that has sent us also.
- Adapted from a sermon given at Oxford University by Dr. George Fothergill, "The Condition of Man's Life a Constant Call to Industry," June 19, 1757
Sunday, May 17, 2020
Every holy principle rejoices in a connection with spotless purity. Every grateful sentiment is stirred by recollecting the labors of redeeming love; every generous affection is roused by the mildness of his yoke; and every hope is animated by the prospect of that life and immortality which Jesus has brought to light.
This joy, it is evident, can only be tasted by the consistent, faithful, practical believer. The friends of Jesus will possess the joys of Jesus; but the friends of Jesus are those who do his commandments.
This is his own account of the matter, and therefore, when we lay this down as a rule, we are sure that we are right, for we are only repeating what he, himself has said.
We are called to study the attributes of God; the relations in which He stands towards us, and those duties which, in consequence, we owe to Him. We are to make ourselves acquainted with the divine authority, the pure doctrines, the holy precepts, and the perfect character of the blessed Jesus. This is the knowledge which will make us wise unto salvation.
Knowledge without virtue will do us no good. In the divine administration, which is wisdom and benevolence in action, we behold means and ends invariably suited to each other. Holiness is the great mean of real and lasting happiness.
If to grow in the likeness of our divine Master is the only preparation for the happiness he has promised, an unwearied attention to his precepts and example is strongly impressed upon us.
We must be active, vigilant, and persevering. Prejudices must be eradicated, passions must be governed, appetites and inclinations to evil resolutely restrained.
The heart and the life must be kept with all diligence, if the prize of our high calling is to be made sure.
Jesus shows us that God is love, the original spring of happiness, and that the grand end he proposes, in the production of man, is the communication and extension of happiness. He shows us that no situation of human life can warrant a fretful and despondent attitude; but that, in. all cases, we may, and, in justice to our great benefactor, ought to encourage a cheerful, and even a joyful attitude.
Let us look for strength where alone it is to be found. Seek for salvation only in that way which the Gospel prescribes. Go directly to the narrow gate. Depend upon it that in no other way redemption can be found. Consult your reason. Make a worthy and noble choice. Aim high. Ambition here is a virtue.
(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Edmund Butcher, 1805)
Sunday, May 10, 2020
Christianity is not a mere code of laws, not an abstract system such as theologians frame. It is a living, embodied religion. It comes to us in a human form. It offers itself to our eyes as well as ears; it breathes, it moves in our sight. It is more than precept, it is example and action.
The importance of example, who does not understand? How much do most of us suffer from the presence, conversation, spirit of men of low minds by whom we are surrounded!
The temptation is strong to take as our standard the average character of the society in which we live, and to satisfy ourselves with decencies and attainments which secure to us among the multitude the name of respectable men.
On the other hand, there is a power (have you not felt it?) in the presence, conversation, and example of a person of strong principle and magnanimity, to lift us, at least for the moment, from our vulgar and tame habits of thought, and to kindle some generous aspirations after the excellence which we were made to attain.
I hardly need say to you that it is impossible to place ourselves under any influence of this nature so inspiring as the example of Jesus.
This introduces us to the highest order of virtues. This is fitted to awaken the whole mind.
Nothing has equal power to neutralize the coarse, selfish, and sensual influences amidst which we are plunged, to refine our conception of duty, and to reveal to us the perfection on which our hopes and most strenuous desires should habitually fasten.
There is one cause which has done much to defeat this good influence of Jesus’ character and example, and which ought to be exposed. It is this. Multitudes - I am afraid great multitudes - think of Jesus as a being to be admired rather than approached.
They have some vague conceptions of a glory in his nature and character which makes it presumption to think of proposing him as their standard. He is thrown so far from them that he does them little good.
Many feel that a close resemblance of Jesus is not to be expected; that this, like many other topics, may serve for declamation in the pulpit, but is utterly incapable of being reduced to practice.
This is an error which exerts a blighting influence on not a few minds.
Until men think of the religion and character of Jesus as truly applicable to them, as intended to be brought into continual operation, as what they must incorporate with their whole spiritual nature, they will derive little good from Jesus.
Men think, indeed, to honor Jesus when they place him so high as to discourage all effort to approach him. They really degrade him.
They do not understand his character; they throw a glare over it which hides its true features. This vague admiration is the poorest tribute which they can pay him.
(From “The Imitableness of Christ’s Character” by Rev. William Ellery Channing, in “Works” Vol. IV, 1888)
Sunday, May 3, 2020
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, April 26, 2020
Nearly everyone has heard the “Serenity Prayer” which says: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
The Stoics of ancient Greece also had a similar belief. Epictetus wrote, in his book the Enchiridion, "Of things, some are in our power, and others are not."
Jesus also addressed change. Some things, he says, cannot be changed, and some things aren’t worth worrying about.
"Do not be anxious about your life," he says, "what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?" (Matt. 6:25)
And in another place, he says, “Which of you, by being anxious, can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matt. 6:27)
While we can temporarily change the color of our hair, in fact, it cannot be changed but remains the same color in the long run. (Matt. 5:36)
In the Book of Proverbs, we learn that having anxiety can weigh us down (Prob. 12:25) and then there’s the oft-quoted Psalm 55, urging us to “Cast your burdens [cares] on Yahweh, and He will sustain you. (Psalm 55:22)
Jesus’ meaning, and the meaning of these other sayings of scripture, is that those things that we cannot change, we shouldn’t waste time worrying about.
And that’s very wise advice.
But while the Hebrew Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus are filled with admonitions to not waste time on things that aren’t changeable – nor worth changing – Jesus clearly calls us to change ourselves, to be “born again,” to repent of our previous bad actions, and also calls on us to ACTIVELY do Good Works that will build God’s Kingdom here on this earth. (Matt. 5:16, 6:10, 7:24; Luke 6:33-35)
He says we must “turn” (change) and become like little children, otherwise we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 18:3) That's work.
He calls on us to feed others, and clothe and house them. He calls for active service in the name of God and the name of God’s Kingdom. (Matt. 25:35) That's work, too.
Today, his message is often missed, or entirely overlooked, because it’s hard. And we like things that are easy.
God is seen by many as a pill we can take to get easy, fast relief, to stop working. God becomes OUR servant, a “mother’s little helper” in whom we can rest. And finding spiritual rest in God is certainly part of what God is, and what God offers us, in our always-busy, hectic lives.
But God should never be seen as our servant, but as our Creator, and Master, One Whom has sent us a perfect template, and it is through him that God calls us to a life of service and self-sacrifice.
Change can often be misunderstood. There’s certainly a time to “let go and let God” but neither God nor the one whom he chose, Jesus, calls on us to abdicate all our responsibilities to God or to others – to become lazy, complacent Christians. Instead, He and His chosen son, Jesus, call on us to be active participants in the creation of a new world.
There’s definitely a time for letting go, and giving things a chance to work themselves out. There’s also a time to jump in and do all that we can to make good things happen. Knowing when to do either is the result of wisdom, and if we lack wisdom to know the difference, we should pray that God will grant us more wisdom so we can discern it.
But taking a default “let go” attitude means that we’ve given up on life. It means that we believe God exists only to do all of our work for us, all of the Good Works that He expects US to do, as we bring in God’s Kingdom on this earth.
We are to be Jesus’ active hands and feet, serving others as Jesus perfectly modeled for us to do. Jesus called us to ACT, and he constantly moved from place to place urging people to do all that he did, and to feed, clothe, house and comfort one another.
Giving up and hoping that God will do all this FOR us is not what we are called to do as Jesus Followers. While some things are clearly out of our control, much of what occurs in our lives can be changed by our actions, and must be.
Let us put aside needless and pointless anxiety about what we cannot change. But let us also have the courage to get up each day and simply do the Good Works we were called by God through His chosen one, Jesus, to do.
Sunday, April 19, 2020
Jesus uniformly expressed high views of human nature. It was over the perversion of its gifts, the abuse of its powers, that he mourned; but it seems never to have been his delight to magnify human guilt.
He found something in human nature, even in its humblest or its most distorted developments, worthy of love. You see him gathering around him little children, pressing them to his bosom, speaking kindly to them. He could not look upon the unwrinkled brow, the fair countenance of childhood, and contemplate the child as an object of God’s displeasure.
Look at his interactions with his immediate followers, how perseveringly obstinate was their hold upon long cherished prejudices! How slow were they to enter into his spirit, and to yield themselves to the full power of his instructions! Yet how patiently did he work with them! How kindly did he apologize for their lack of zeal in his cause! True it is, that he fearlessly rebuked sin; but in what spirit did he rebuke it? With the utmost compassion.
We look to the Reformers, who have appeared in different periods of the Christian church. We see in many of them high powers, determined hearts, and persevering efforts, qualities, which claim for them great respect. We see none, however, unbiased by local interests and prejudices.
Jesus stands at an immeasurable distance from them all. W see none, who are actuated by a generous, unmingled love, like that which Jesus manifested.
By the honest friends of Christianity, many devices have been invented and practiced to give power and interest to its instructions. The terrors of the Lord have been proclaimed, in the language of power acting for destruction. The passion of fear has been used without restraint, and all the passions associated with it have been addressed.
The power of party has been tried, and so has that of pomp, of show and of boasting, of forms and ceremonies, of fasts and prayers. But has the power of love been uniformly, and extensively tried?
Has the true spirit of Jesus ever yet been fully exhibited, either by his ministers or his church? I fear that it has not; and that even some good men are most woefully deceived as to the tendency of their own influence.
Here I see, what the spirit of Christ is, what the fruits of his influence are; and I utter in sorrow the deep conviction of my soul that the spirit of pure love, as it appeared in the teachings of Jesus, is not found extensively abroad for the reformation of the world.
Without this spirit, zeal may work with all the power of passion, sect after sect may put forth its rival claims, and missionaries may travel the globe; but the world will continue to writhe under the tortures of sin, and souls will continue to perish.
(Adapted from a Christmas Sermon by Rev. Nathan Parker, 1831)