Sunday, September 17, 2017

God's Not Sending Disasters - He's With Us During Them, And In The Recovery #JesusFollowers

https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2017/0905/Harvey-recovery-brings-employment-opportunities-for-immigrants

Did God "send" Hurricane's Harvey and Irma? Does God "send" school shootings to "test us" or tornadoes and volcanoes to "call people home" or as punishment for our sins? No. This is a modern (or rather, childish and Ancient) misconception, resulting in a gross misreading of Scripture.

God "shows no partiality and accepts no bribes." (Deut. 10:17) and we know that God is not in the storms, the winds, or the earthquakes (1 Kings 19:11-13.) Jesus tells us that God makes the sun, "rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matt. 5:45.) Our God, therefore, is not a mere angry "storm deity."

Prayer cannot bribe God to turn away a hurricane, typhoon, flood, or tornado, and God isn't the agent of death who sends these things to "punish" us. God, says the author of the Book of Job, "shows no partiality to princes, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of His hands." And there is no "shifting or shadow" in God, writes James, the brother of Jesus (James 1:7.)

Most critically, Jesus - God's anointed spokesman - demolishes the idea that God is partial and uses Nature to punish us, as if we somehow bring Nature's wrath upon us by our behavior. He was asked by the disciples, "'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." (John 9:2-3)

In the book of Luke, Jesus uses two examples of disasters - a tower falling in Siloam and Pilate "mingling blood" with the Jews' sacrifices - to dispel the myth that our sins cause disasters (Luke 13:1-5.)

So, these words of Jesus tell us all we need to know about the cause of Natural disasters, birth defects, and all of the things with which we struggle in our lives.

God is not in the disaster, but He is in the recovery.

In English, the word "weather" can be both a noun and a verb. The weather is an active, impersonal Natural force that acts upon us. But we are also said to be able to "weather" a storm or a tragedy.

We weather these storms by drawing upon the strength God has implanted within us at birth, but also be calling upon God to strengthen our resolve and endurance in times of trouble.

It is for this latter reason that James writes that we should consider it "all joy" when turmoil comes at us, because this adversity teaches us to become steadfast, and that leads us to become more perfect and complete (James 1:2-4.) Through the storms - whether they are Natural or the kind we encounter in our daily lives - we should rely upon God for wisdom and strength.

Jesus makes it clear that we are to be the agents of God on earth - bringing in the Kingdom of Heaven with our Good Works: Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter, comforting the prisoner, and responding to those who are in distress.

The face of God is the expression of love and comfort the rescue worker gives to those in need following a Natural disaster, and in the food, clothing and shelter we provide, not in the wind, rain and tumult of the storm.

Let us give thanks that we know a God Who is not The Storm, but is the Comforter after the storm!



Image: Christian Science Monitor

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Simplicity Of #Jesus' True Religion #JesusFollowers


The Sermon on the Mount is practical and simple, uninvolved in any abstruse, remote, or novel conceptions. It expresses no ideas that amaze and stupefy, or call for careful consideration on account of their novelty. 

It is a solemn, searching declaration of the universal religion of humanity: God is holy, wise, good; blessed are you if you are pure, meek, hungering for righteousness, and living from the heart pure, useful, holy lives. This is all the doctrine there is in it; not a word about the nature of the Godhead, the fall of man, the need of the atonement, the deity of Christ, the necessity of baptism and the saving sacrament of the communion.

And, indeed, the four Gospels are all simplicity itself, so far as they give us Christ's own words. Jesus spoke the language and the truth and the religion of a simple, artless, deep-centered representative of universal humanity — true always, everywhere, and for all. There is nothing to add, nothing to abate, nothing to excuse or to explain away in his teachings.

Because they give voice to what humanity knows to be deep and holy, they hold the allegiance of those in the twenty-first, as they will those of the thirty-first century. We cannot conceive of anything about our faith that is not already in the teachings, spirit, and example of Jesus.

Jesus has taught and illustrated our faith in ways a child can understand. But it is so plain that it looks severe; so simple that it looks cold and hard, like a marble statue. Its simplicity leaves us no loopholes of escape from its commandments. It cannot be, says the weaver of subtleties, that Jesus really expected us to be what he was and make his character our example. It cannot be that he really expected us to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves!

This is very simple, but it is so exacting and so hard! It is easier to believe a much more complex and inexplicable creed than to practice this very simple one. And so, not because it was unintelligible, but because it was too intelligible — not because it was uncertain, but because it was too plain — the subtlety of the Church and of the Christian world has upholstered and stuffed and cushioned and draped the simplicity of religion, until it has been made as great a mystery as an Egyptian mummy in its endless wrappings.

How much easier it is for the soul, reluctant for duty and self-sacrifice, to spend its time in high speculation about the nature of the Godhead than in plain obedience to an imperative voice of God enjoining us to shun evil and do right!

How much lighter work it is to bow when Jesus' name occurs in the creed, and to give him all the honors and worship of a God, than to keep his moral teachings and put on his meek and loving attitude! 

The simplicity of Jesus as it reveals itself in the Sermon on the Mount is often compared disparagingly with the voluminous faith of the Nicene Creed. Call that simplicity the Christian religion, which really adds nothing to the old Jewish and the older natural religion of love to God and love to man, except the example and spirit of Jesus! 

What, then, becomes of the Fall, and the Curse, and the Atonement, and the Sacraments, and the Trinity, and the Deity of Christ, and all the rest of the dogmatic paraphernalia of religion? They become invisible, like candles in the presence of the sun; they fall, like tents rich with hangings when the sky clears and spreads its own tabernacle around us.

It is the keeping of these great commandments that discloses their richness and fullness. They are simple and few. 

But live by them, and you will find that all the bodies of divinity in the world could not contain their lessons, or describe the glorious richness of their contents. If we are to have substitutes for holy living, nothing can be more effectual than hard metaphysical dogmas, or disputes about modes of worship.

To promote and exact real morality and true piety we can conceive nothing so well fitted as the simplicity of Jesus – the plain, unequivocal, uninvolved requirement of love to God, tested by love to men and active usefulness in life.

Do not allow yourselves to fall under the dominion of these sounding subtleties, these dark dogmas, these involved metaphysical puzzles that pass for religion and Christianity. They will unsettle your common sense, and befog your conscience.

It is not the unknown we can profit by, but the known. It is not the obscure, but the plain, that should have our attention.

It takes no learning, no scholarship, no formal logic, no fine-spun reasoning, to know God so far as we need to know him, as a moral governor and father of spirits; to know Jesus as a holy, gentle, and wise master and guide of character; to know our duty well enough to live chastely, truthfully, honestly, with mercy and sympathy.

And this is all we need to know to fulfill all the obligations and to reach all the blessings of religion.

The common sense view of religion, as of life, is the true view. Eccentric or exceptional views are usually erroneous. Trust your capacity to know God and to understand Jesus by directing a plain common-sense intelligence towards them.

You have no more faith than you practice, no more religion than you live out, and no Savior unless he is found in you. This is simple, plain truth. Allow no spirit of subtlety to hide or deform it.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Henry W. Bellows, 1886)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Jesus We Need To Hear Again #JesusFollowers


Should we be actively building a better and a more Godly world, or should we simply do nothing and wait for God to make it better? Should we seek our own advantage, or put other's needs ahead of our own? Should we do Good things, or just call ourselves “good?” (Or are we allowed to even CALL ourselves that?)

If we read the words of Jesus, the answers to these and other questions are clear. But if we listen to today's church, the answers are unclear.

The teachings of Jesus are clear, consistent and powerful.

Jesus said his words would last forever - would not pass away. And his teachings about how we should act in this world were clear.

If we understand that, we would naturally put Jesus clear, plain teachings at the center of our Faith, and they would obviously be placed at the core of any teachings about that Faith.

And yet, modern Christianity has been bogged down with man-made words and man-made doctrines that muddle Jesus' teachings and message, and often obscure it entirely, making them of no effect and importance.

Today’s Churchmen and theologians speak words Jesus never uttered: "Justification," "Sanctification," "Total Depravity," “Original Sin,” "works-salvation." But these words give birth to doctrines that make Jesus' religion a toxic one.

Jesus never said that children are born "unable not to sin." Instead, Jesus tells the disciples to allow children to come to him, since they represent the purity of God's Kingdom.

Jesus never even hinted that human beings couldn't perform Good Works from birth. Instead, he says we MUST seek to do Good Works - deeds of the heart that serve our neighbors and show them God’s love.

Jesus said we are to begin acting NOW to build up God's Kingdom, "on earth as it is in Heaven." We aren't to wait for any special signs from God, or to wait at all.

We are justified, says Jesus, not by our vain words, or our intentions alone, or even by faith alone, but rather by our acts, which are judged only by God (and not by others, or even by ourselves.)

Jesus says we become holy only by DOING what is holy, good and righteous. Holiness and Righteousness are ACTS we do, not a mere THING we can get by simply claiming Jesus' holiness as our own.

Jesus calls us to turn the other cheek, to not seek our own advantage, to follow the narrow and difficult path of his religion, and that those who seek to be first will be last. Modern preachers, however, often say we must only seek to get our SELVES into Heaven, and that it can be done easily, without effort.

Our goal isn't to simply to "save" ourselves, says Jesus. Those who seek to save themselves, in fact lose themselves. But if we deny ourselves, and lose ourselves in serving others, we gain victory, eternally and in this life.

Far from condemning Good Works, Jesus calls us to do them, without pride, because Godliness is our natural state.

Jesus assures us that we will be judged by God according to our Works - the deeds of our hands - and even then, we'll be judged by a merciful and holy God.

Our Works will light the world, says Jesus, and they will reflect our spiritual journey towards Righteousness as we repent continually for falling short of the Ideal Jesus sets for us.

That is a path Jesus calls us to seek and follow, in his footsteps. And it's a path that is easily understood even by a child.

By twisting and adding to Jesus' simple words and teachings, modern theologians and ministers make Jesus confusing and strange. He becomes someone who cannot be understood without the help of a Priestly class.

Jesus tells us that neither God nor his teachings were ever meant to be seen "through a glass, darkly." Jesus is a window we can look through to see how God wishes us to live.

Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him, to do JUST AS he did, and even greater things than he did.

This isn't the call of someone who condemns Good Works, who says "wait for God to act, don't act yourselves," or someone who wishes us to simply admire his righteousness and not emulate it.

We are clearly and decisively called by Jesus to go 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 teacher.

When we begin to see Jesus as an example we can follow, he becomes a Master we can also love as a brother.

So, 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 teacher.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Approaching #Jesus Like A Child #JesusFollowers

When we were just children, and attended Sunday School with pure hearts and wide eyes, we accepted God, and the one God anointed, with a childlike faith.

We believed that God was good, and we thanked him for our food.

We believed that he sent out Jesus to preach goodness, mercy, justice and love.

We believed the teachings of Jesus were good, and that we should follow them.

Among those teachings, we accepted that we should do to others what we would wish to have done to us, and that turning the other cheek - rather than fighting back in anger, was the most pure and best way to handle conflict.

We accepted his teaching that being selfish was wrong, and to serve others - even before ourselves - is our mission here in this life.

Going the extra mile, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, comforting the sick, were all simple, clear teachings of our Master.

It was obvious to us as children that we were called to be servants of others, and that we would be rewarded with Heaven - closeness to God forever - if we obeyed God's will for our lives, which was purely exemplified by Jesus' life.

And we believed  that the best way to show that we are followers of Jesus by showing love towards others.

Now, we must sit back today and ask: What happened to that faith?

Jesus calls us to become like little children in our faith.  He says: "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." (Mark 10:15) and, elsewhere, he says, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:3)

This means that we are called by Jesus to be pure, hopeful, faithful, and loving, because that's how children, who have not been tainted by life's cynicism, are in their purity.

It also means we are called to ACT, and our actions are important to Jesus, and to the God Who called him.

This command of Jesus is confusing to those who are raised in churches to believe that we are born "evil" or thoroughly impure and unable to obey God.

This doctrine leads to a complete misunderstanding of his teaching, with some believing that we must simply accept Jesus WHEN we are children, and need never seek to obey Jesus at all, because we are unable to do so (the flawed King James Biblical translation leads directly to this confusion.)

Another misunderstanding is to believe that this childlike faith in God is a call to be CHILDISH in our faith. This leads to some to say that a starry-eyed belief in man-made doctrines about God that cannot be understood - and are not based on anything Jesus said or taught - are "childlike."

The book of Proverbs asks, "How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?" (Prov. 1:22) And Jesus never called us to be fools for him. Instead, God's chosen one tells us to love God with all our minds and understanding.

The teachings of Jesus can be understood by a child, and are MEANT to be this easily understood.

We are called to simply and completely follow the teachings of Jesus, the one God chose to be our example in all things. He taught us the way to enter God's Kingdom, God's ideal way for all humanity to live together, and the way we can live with God forever after our earthly lives end, if God judges us worthy of entry.

All other teachings of men seem to be mere corruptions of God's simple plan, and Jesus' simple, childlike teachings.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

#Jesus Shows Us The Way Of Godliness! #JesusFollowers


The life of Jesus shows us that we can do all things that God asks us to do, because God's chosen one has done them as an example we can follow.

God, our eternal Creator, knows us better than we know ourselves. He creates our souls and wishes us to enjoy Him and love Him.

Our lives have meaning when we are following a pattern God sets for us. But He has not given us this pattern to mock us, nor has God given us impossible tasks so that every person would fail.

God gives us, from birth, gifts that are meant to be used for Good. Therefore, we must do all that is in our power to perform Good Works, relying on these natural gifts.

We also have the perfect moral example of Jesus whom God chose and out to us, to show by his teachings, life and death how we should live our lives.

God also grants us ongoing gifts of wisdom and strength - to supplement all we have been already given - so that we might better accomplish what His chosen one, Jesus, calls us to do.

When we fail to live up to the standards Jesus sets for us, we repent and seek God's inexhaustible mercy and forgiveness. But we must not make excuses for not seeking what Jesus commands, nor hold God responsible for HIS promises if we refuse to strive to fulfill our own.

But how do we KNOW that we can do what God has required of us?

Because Jesus, God's spokesman and our example, lived in perfect obedience, doing in all things that pleased God, his and our Father, and showed by this example that ALL are able to do as he did, and to obey God.

Jesus, therefore, has made God's Kingdom possible, through his life, teachings and even through the example of his death.

It's possible for us to understand and actively pursue Godly concepts like virtue, righteousness, honesty, self-sacrifice, and service.

It's possible to treat others with dignity, serving them and loving them as Jesus did.

It's possible for us to actively pursue Godliness, and seek the Righteousness that Jesus calls us to pursue.

It's possible for us to avoid sinful behaviors that separate us from God, our Creator.

And it's possible for us to gain eternal life and reunite with God, not through vain words or demanding it, but by trusting God to be the Judge, and letting us be His children.

In truth, Jesus assures us by his life and teachings that we can achieve all that God asks of us.

We thank God that we have the ability to understand, learn and follow His Will, thanks to the teachings of His chosen Son, Jesus!

Let us go forth and do Good Works in humility and for the glory of God's Kingdom!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The #Parable Of The Vineyard Teaches Us To ACT, not Judge! #JesusFollowers


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

Called By #Jesus To Serve Others First! #JesusFollowers


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.