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 build 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!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Follow Me! #JesusFollowers

A new year is a time to take stock of our lives, to examine ourselves, and our place in the world.

It's also a good time to re-examine our faith, and our attitude towards God.

Is our faith in God strong? Can it withstand criticism? Can it withstand scrutiny by others, and ourselves? Do we view God as OUR servant, doing OUR bidding, or are we see ourselves as God's servants on this earth?

Is our faith reasonable? Is it wrapped in confusion, mystery, and illogical doctrines? Does it call us to excuse our inaction, claiming that as human beings, we can do nothing to advance God's Kingdom on earth?

Is our faith effective? Does it serve others, or just ourselves? Does it seek our own comfort and eternal security, or are we willing  to sacrifice ALL?

Is our faith built on strong, reasonable and effective doctrines? Or does it leave us confused, mystified by man-made beliefs that make Jesus into something remote, inhuman and one whom we cannot truly follow?

Jesus challenges us to a works-centered, other-centered faith, one that is joyous and worthwhile. 

Jesus calls us to completely give up selfishness, and fully live for God and tirelessly serve the other human beings around us.

Jesus wants us to be clear-eyed and understand exactly what he calls us to do, which means knowing that God's will for our lives is simply this: seek to do Righteousness, love God completely, and serve others fully. 

A faith built on working for others cannot be a faith of false pride, or a faith that keeps score. God must be the One who is proud, and God is the One who keeps score and will reward our deeds, according to His mercy.

Jesus says, "FOLLOW ME!" He teaches us to take up a burden of service, love and struggle, just as he did. This, he says, is why he came: to build God's Spiritual Kingdom on this earth.

He wants us to seek the narrow gate, not the easy path. Jesus wants us to avoid the simple, self-centered faith of the religious elites, and follow the righteous and difficult path of costly service.

Jesus teaches us that God has extremely high goals for us, but assures us that God knows we will fall short. God's forgiveness and mercy - absent from man-made doctrines of condemnation and God's alleged wrath - are ever-present and sufficient when we seek them from our Creator.

But Jesus calls us to fail more perfectly each time we try. Which, if we're humble about it, isn't "failure" anymore. We are called by Jesus to "Fail upward" on this journey towards this Godly perfection he calls us to.

Jesus refused to make excuses for the difficult path he was called to follow as God's chosen exemplar for all humanity. Nor must we blame distant ancestors, weak spirits, or physical limitations. All of us are born capable of doing something Good, and God's spirit and Jesus' example refresh and inspire us to grow and do even more. 

A new year is dawning. Let it be a new era in which Jesus is known once again as one whom we may truly follow.

On every day of this new year, let us go out and work Righteousness in this world, doing all we can to be an example of the light of God that was born within us, kindled by the example of Jesus, our God-appointed teacher.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Let Us Welcome The Adult #Jesus, Too! #JesusFollowers

Today, we "welcome" Jesus into the world along with Christendom. This is a Jesus we already know, a man fully grown and with whom we are more than acquainted.

This isn't a baby we must perpetually welcome into our homes. We are confronted instead with the adult Jesus.

Meeting the adult Jesus is difficult for many, and even frightens them to meet him as an adult and not a helpless, unassuming child. The adult Jesus scared the religious elites of his day because of what he asked, just as he scares the religious elites of today.

Jesus is an adult whom we must each decide whether to ignore, or to serve, as God intended us to do.

If we claim his name, and wish to be identified with it, we must not assume that admiring a baby in a manger is what God wishes. We must not delude ourselves that admiration - or even worship - is alone sufficient. We cannot ignore the adult Jesus, or prefer the baby instead of the adult.

The adult Jesus is hidden away by the religious elites. He scares them. A fully human Jesus, fully grown, with a clearly understood and fully formed mission and a challenging religion of Good Works, scares them to death.

So this adult Jesus isn't celebrated at Christmas. And he never makes an appearance the rest of the year.

Who is this Jesus?

Jesus, the adult, was of course born a baby, but he was born fully a man, of human parents, just as we were born. He grew in the knowledge of God and gained wisdom; he pleased God in all he did. When he became an adult, he was chosen and anointed by God to be our Master, our Teacher, our Template and the Example of how a human being should live for the glory of God and most beneficially for our fellow human beings.

This Jesus is not the one created for us by Priests whom we must simply admire and worship from afar; unable to obey, unable to follow because he is so different, so distant, so alien.

We may instead celebrate the Jesus - a man called and chosen by God - whom we can fully love as our elder brother, and the one whom we can actively follow as our example in all things. We may become more like God because one of us has done it already, setting the example towards which we may strive.

Let us remember the birth, but also the adult life, of THIS Jesus, a Jesus worth celebrating on this, and every, day.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Costly Faith #Jesus Calls Us To Follow! #JesusFollowers

"Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:27-31)

What does Jesus mean when he says, "Counting the costs?"

Too many people are willing to believe in a God that requires nothing – no work, to time, no money, no effort, and no works of love; a religion that’s made easy, that requires less effort than is required to put a meal in a microwave.

They're more than ready to go to Heaven, as long as God carries them there without any requirement that they move their feet a single step.

But the inconvenient problem for those who believe this, and wish to continue to call themselves "Christian" or followers of Christ Jesus, is that this is not the religion Jesus preached. That’s not the path he calls us to walk. It's not the live he wishes us to lead in this life. And it doesn't even lead to eternal salvation with God, our Father.

If people really put a faith in our God at the center of their lives, and believed that Jesus himself lays out this religion in his words, then they would find no work for God too hard, no self-denial too severe, and no offering of service in the name of God’s chosen Son, Jesus to be enough.

Jesus spoke about costly, righteous obedience that would cause people to hate us, and a Godly kingdom here on earth that requires us to act righteously, loving even our enemies. God would then reward us with Heaven based only on our deeds.

That’s a salvation that is not easy, lazy or cheaply obtained with our vain words and lengthy prayers (Matt. 6:7; 7:21.)

That which we obtain cheaply, we esteem lightly. A gift freely given, a gift unwrapped and unused, is a worthless gift, regardless of the cost. Teachings unused, and unapplied, are exactly the same - useless.

Jesus never said that salvation would come without cost. He never said it would require no effort, or that it cannot or must not be earned. In fact, he said just the opposite.

His parables, including this one about the costs involved in building a tower, all point to a costly faith – a faith that requires us to give all we have to serving God by loving and serving both Him and our fellow human beings.

If faith costs nothing, and salvation can be achieved without effort, what "costs" must we count?

If effort and self-sacrifice is not required of us by God, then of what "costs" does Jesus speak regarding the tower in this parable?

If the wide and easy path is the path condemned by Jesus, why do so many seek it?

Those who don't plan, or don't count the costs, or don’t believe there ARE costs in achieving eternal salvation deserve to be mocked, just as those who would build a tower without considering the costs would deserve to be mocked, says Jesus.

And those who don’t consider ALL they have to be on the line when following Jesus should reconsider calling themselves by his name. We must be willing to share all, give all, and do all in order to follow the Paths of Righteousness and, ultimately, eternal Salvation Jesus calls us to follow.

"Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." (Luke 12:48.) Does this sound like the words of someone advocating and approving an easy, lazy faith, to be rewarded by God with a cheaply obtained eternal life?

God said at Jesus' baptism, when He adopted Jesus as his anointed Son and appointed him as our Example and Savior, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him." (Matt. 17:15.) We should, then, listen to and believe Jesus’s words, both here and elsewhere, when he says we must obey God's commands and follow his own example, doing all things he has done in obedience to our Creator.

God chose this perfectly obedient human being to be our example in all things. We therefore must make every effort to humbly and honorably seek to follow Jesus in obedience to his life's pattern, which pleased God so much.

As this year draws to a close, let us rededicate ourselves to a costly service that honors Jesus’ words and follows his example.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Jesus is Our Perfect Moral Example in Life and Death #JesusFollowers

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 he arrived at perfect obedience, and by doing in all things that which he was sent by his Father, he has shown by his example that all are able to obey him.

The path that he trod is the same path and course of self-denial that we must tread, and which is untrodden by every creature, till he is finally led by the same spirit that led our great Pattern, Jesus. In that way, his righteousness becomes ours; and this is the only righteousness that ever saved an individual in the world - obedience to the manifestation of the will of 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.

God 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 sermons by Elias Hicks (1748-1830)