Sunday, July 5, 2020

How Should We Deal With Money? #JesusFollowers

Money is not evil. The concept of money has existed in every human civilization throughout history. It is useful in Commerce between human beings who trade their skills and products for it.

We certainly cannot look to Jesus to condemn the concept of money. In fact, Jesus says that using money to earn a wage and pay taxes is not wrong.

In the Parable of the Talents, he says putting out money to work for us and even gaining interest isn't wrong, either.

When a group of men were given money, one buried it, two others invested it. Those who used their money for good were praised. The one who hid their money and did nothing with it was condemned for not using the gifts he was given. We, too, must use wisely the gifts we are given, including the money that comes into our (temporary) possession.

And when he is challenged about paying taxes, he does not hesitate to say that the government of his time (the Roman Empire, led by Caesar Augustus) should receive the tax dollars that were due to them.

However, when money becomes an object or an idol that we worship above other things, it becomes something that gets between us and God, and between ourselves and others around us.

Jesus puts money in perspective. He teaches that we must actively lay up heavenly treasures, not earthly ones that don’t last (Matthew 5:44–46.) The race for wealth doesn’t last, but our rewards in Heaven do, if we act in a Godly fashion.

The psalmist says, "if riches increase, set not your heart on them." (62:10) and Jesus warns that riches are not the core of our Being, that we "are more than the sum of our possessions." (Luke 12)

And when Jesus says we may ask ANYTHING of God in prayer, we must understand that a love of money and a love of material things should not enter into that prayer, because that is expressing a greed for material possessions, not a pure love and the balanced understanding of "things" that God wishes us to have.

To know that we are to seek from God only spiritual things that don't rot or fade away, is to know we ought ONLY ask in prayer out of a pure Love for others and for THEIR spiritual well-being (and for our own spiritual completeness) rather than for material riches that aren't helpful to the advancement of God's Kingdom. If money enters our prayers, we make God into nothing more than a Heavenly ATM machine.

Similarly, our life's worth cannot not measured by the things we acquire - not in our material wealth - but in the SPIRITUAL wealth we accrue in Heaven and our spiritual abundance that is nurtured and grown by abiding with God and God's chosen one, Jesus, who is our example in all things financial as well as spiritual.

Like the parable Jesus told in which the proud man had just built large barns for his rapidly expanding possessions, only to die the very next day, we are not to revel in our material wealth, which is fleeting.

The words, life, teachings and death of our Master, Jesus, challenge us to do, to act, to follow, to serve, to be better, to do more, to try harder, to be humble, yet Righteous, to serve God, not money, to lose ourselves and gain eternity. Let's be the example to others in the way in which we handle our money that Jesus is to us!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

We Are Given Moral Freedom By God! #JesusFollowers

Jesus, in the establishment of his religion, did not force his followers to accept him. He taught every essential religious truth, made laws for their behavior, and spoke to them with persuasive words.

He then left them to act freely, so the happiness of his disciples might be the reward of obedience, which flows from an enlightened mind and a teachable attitude.

Our Master exhibited the clearest proof of a divine mission. By his life, he displayed the moral worth of his character. He called on his followers to examine his doctrines, to reflect on his works, and to weigh the actions of his life; and for themselves receive his words, obey his commands, and rely on his promises.

Jesus recognized powers in us to judge the evidence on which his religion is founded, and to perceive that his instructions conformed to the unchangeable laws of truth. A number of important inferences may be drawn from this appeal of our Master to the human mind. One is that religion is a rational and voluntary service.

God has given us the attributes of reason and liberty. These make us the subject of a moral government, and make us capable of virtuous action. Take away these abilities, and we cease to be subject to reward or punishment.

To make any course of action good, in a moral sense, an agent must be conscious of duty, and have the ability and power to do it. 

Actions in which the will of the agent have no place have no virtuous properties; and doing those actions cannot be called "moral." The way in which the human mind is used determines our moral character. Our actions create the morality of human conduct.

Having the Reason to distinguish good from evil, and the liberty to choose the one and refuse the other, make us capable of moral conduct and moral self-government. If our freedom and agency is taken away, we are no better than animals, or we become like mere machines.

It is the duty of human beings to enlighten their minds about religion. To act rationally and freely in the important aspects of our faith, we must know its foundation, and learn its essential truths and duties.

We cannot consistently perform the duties of religion, while ignorant of its first principles, any more than we can converse intelligibly in a language with which we are unacquainted.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Aaron Bancroft) 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The True Parentage of #Jesus, (And Why It Matters) [#JesusFollowers]

"This day, I have begotten you"
On this Father’s Day, we celebrate our fathers and those who have been fathers to us, influencing our lives and making us the people we are today.

As followers of Jesus, we look to him as a father figure, but also as a brother – a fellow member of the Human Race who also looked to *his* father and those who were father figures in his life. How we view Jesus is important because he is our God-anointed example and God's spokesman on earth.

Jesus was adopted. But Joseph, the husband of Mary, wasn't the one who adopted him, as we have all been taught. The adoptive father of Jesus was none other than God, the Creator of the Universe. How do we know this? We can find it right there in the Gospel stories.

Jesus was chosen by God (Matt. 12:18; Luke 9:35; 23:35) anointed by God (Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38) and sent by God (Mark 9:37; Matt. 9:38; Luke 9:48; John 5:37). At his baptism, God’s voice says, "You are my Son, this day I have begotten you," thus becoming his father by adoption (Luke 3:22, Acts 13:33, Psalms 2:7). In early manuscripts of the Gospels, Joseph is clearly spoken of as the father and Mary as the mother of Jesus. In Luke 2:48, for example, his mother, Mary, says to Jesus, when he had wandered off, "Your father and I have been looking for you."

In Matthew (13:55) he is easily recognized by others as fully human and part of a human family, saying, “Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?

Joseph was by all accounts a good father to Jesus, taking him to Jerusalem every year, performing everything according to the Law, and it is said that Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:39-41; 52)

The early church spoke of Jesus as a man, chosen by God. In Peter’s sermons in Acts, he speaks of him as, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God (Acts 2:22) and “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good.” (Acts 13:38.) Jesus is spoken of as a man’s offspring, the direct descendant of David (Acts. 13:23) and according to the Genealogy provided in the Gospels, this must be through his father, Joseph.

Thus, the early church that gathered in Jerusalem after the death of Jesus and his return to God in the resurrection, saw Jesus as a man, chosen by God, sent by God and adopted by God at his baptism to proclaim a Good and Beneficial Message to mankind, the Gospel, calling on all to repent. It could be no other way, since the Jewish Jesus Followers of that age (before the destruction of Jerusalem) continued to attend the Temple there every day.

If we believe this, what does it mean to us? What difference does it REALLY make if Jesus was adopted by God or was instead created by the seed of God Himself – an otherworldly being who was only adopted and raised by Joseph?

Jesus’ full humanity is vital to our ability to obey Jesus. Jesus tells us we must obey God and following the example of Jesus as a perfect role model of that behavior.

The Adoption of Jesus by God preserved the humanity of Jesus, allowing us to rely on his example and see through him a “Clear Glass” what God wishes for us all.

If Jesus is divine, fully or even partially, the example of Jesus that he set for us can be portrayed as meaningless as goals, because, it can be said, we cannot hope to accomplish them. They make his message and commands meaningless, too, and turns him into a mocker or a false prophet, urging us to do what cannot possibly be done – to be exactly like a half-man/half-God, a demigod, who was endowed in a way that we are not.

The church of Christendom today (specifically Protestant Christendom) believes exactly this: that we cannot be like Jesus, the Demigod, so we should not even try to do the Good Works that he commanded. We can, they say, only believe “on” him in order to gain his goodness and righteousness magically, by our mere words and beliefs, and that full obedience of Jesus’ commands is literally impossible.

But this makes not only Joseph, but Jesus, into an irrelevancy. It makes obedience seem impossible. It makes the words of Jesus into a mockery, and we know that Jesus himself said that his words would “not pass away” even as he said the Jewish world around his followers would.

Today, we must look to Jesus as the son of a human father – a man adopted by God to be the specially anointed Prophet who brings us a message that liberates us and elevates us, telling us that we MAY and MUST obey God and become righteous in our deeds, not just in our intentions and mere words, always relying humbly on God for strength to become more like His adopted Son, Jesus. That is the message of the Gospel, pure and simple. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

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, June 7, 2020

Reason And Revelation, Together! #JesusFollowers

There are two witnesses: the witness for God which He has placed in every mind - the revelation of His spirit in the rational and immortal soul of man; and the Reason which we have the capacity of exercising in conformity to His spirit.

Reason can do nothing by itself; therefore, it is only to decide which things are revealed to us by God’s light. Our Reason would be dormant, were it not for revelation. The light of the outward sun is a beautiful index of the Son of heaven, as it reveals all things on our earth; and until it shines upon our earth, Reason lies dormant.

We are thus enabled to speak of things, to regulate things, to add to and diminish from things; and thus, under the operation of Reason, we can make them in a measure useful; in a measure a blessing to us.

Here we see the ability of this Reason; and Reason must always be subject to revelation. It knows nothing till revelation gives it materials, by which the soul can act upon them, and improve them.

Let all our faculties be rightly exercised; let right Reason and Revelation go hand in hand; for Reason is the most noble part of the creature; it gives a distinction between thing and thing. And as it is a gift of God, so we shall find that it is fully so - a gift to the soul.

We are all to attend to our own salvation: and if we are concerned to do this, will we give way to notions that will hinder this salvation? God is to judge of these things; and man is only to judge of the overt acts of his fellow creatures - such as have a tendency to injure his fellow creatures.

But if a brother or sister seeks to do all their duties, consistent with the will of God Almighty, we have no right to judge any farther than this, "By their fruits ye shall know them."

We know that love and good works are the only fruits of the right and good tree: but the contrary fruit is the fruit of thorns and briars always and perpetually.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

We Are Here To Do Great Things! #JesusFollowers

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

Our Life Is a Constant Call to Good Works! #JesusFollowers

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