Sunday, January 16, 2022

What Is The Church? #JesusFollowers

A Christian church is a body of men and women united together in a common desire of religious excellence, and with a common regard for Jesus of Nazareth, regarding him as the noblest example of morality and religion - as the model, therefore, in this respect, for us.

The action of a Christian church seems to be twofold: first on its own members, and then, through their means, on others out of its pale.

Let a word be said of each. If I were to ask you why you came here today why you have often come to this house hitherto - the serious amongst you would say: That we might become better; more human; upright before God and downright before others, that we might be Christians, good and pious, after the fashion Jesus spoke of. 

The essential of substance, which makes a church a religious body, is the union for the purpose of cultivating love to God and humanity; and the essential of form, which makes it a Christian body, is the common regard for Jesus, considered as the highest representative of God that we know. 

It is not the form, either of ritual or of doctrine, but the spirit, which constitutes a Christian church.

The first design of such a church then is to help ourselves become Christians. Now the substance of Christianity is Piety - Love to God, and Goodness - Love to others. 

It is a religion, the germs whereof are born in our hearts, appearing in our earliest childhoods, which are developed just in proportion as we become adults, and are indeed the standard measure of our lives.

Christianity, to be perfect and entire, demands a complete humanity, the development of the whole person - mind, conscience, heart, and soul. 

It aims not to destroy the sacred peculiarities of individual character. It cherishes and develops them in their perfection.

We are born different, into a world where unlike things are gathered together, that there may be a special work for each.

Christianity respects this diversity in us, aiming not to undo but further God's will; not fashioning all people after one pattern, to think alike, act alike, be alike, even look alike. It is something far different than Christianity which demands that.

In becoming Christians let us not cease to be human; nay, we cannot be Christians unless we are human first. It were unchristian to love Christianity better than the truth, or Christ better than humanity.

The noblest monument to Christ, the fairest trophy of religion, is a noble people, where all are well fed and clad, industrious, free, educated, manly, pious, wise, and good.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Theodore Parker, ca. 1840.)

Sunday, January 9, 2022

What God Gives Us Lasts Forever #JesusFollowers

All truth is permanent. It can never pass away. The heart and mind cling with passionate love to all realized truth, and will hold it, even if mixed with error.


The miner who has found a nugget of gold holds it firmly, though it is mixed with earth and debris. He will not let it go until you can separate the earth and alloy, and leave the gold pure. So religious people cling to doctrines a thousand times over proved to be false and absurd, not because they love falsehood, but because they love the truth with which that error is mixed.

Mere logic cannot make them let go of the doctrine by any argument or ridicule. They will not relinquish it until someone comes who can see the truth in the error, and give them that truth in a purer form. Then they let the error go. This was what Jesus did. He took into the Gospel all that was true in Judaism.

Jesus was the greatest and boldest reformer who ever lived. To him the Jewish Temple was nothing, the Jewish Sabbath was nothing: human beings were the true temple, human good was the only reason for the Sabbath; and the pure in heart saw God. And yet Jesus, so much of a reformer, so radical in all things, said he came not to destroy, and that nothing would pass from the law until all was fulfilled. He took up all the truth of the past into the present, and carried it on into the future.

When God gives us love, he gives it forever. Superficial sympathies, based on accident, proximity, or common interests of the hour, are fleeting, but the love which sees what is best in us, and cares for that, is something which cannot pass away. For this is like God's love. He is the God of the living, and loves the loving part our nature. And this human love attaches itself to the deepest, noblest, and best thing in us, and often discovers better things in us than we know ourselves.

If we love that which is best in each other, not the fleeting, though seducing, charm, but the truth and sincerity and earnest feeling in each other's souls, our love to each other helps, and does not hinder; if we make it vital and encourage it by conscience and faith, if we help each other to be nearer to truth, duty, and God, our love for each other becomes immortal.

Goodness, real goodness, is so much better than anything else that, if we ever have it, we cling to it always. A person who has done one generous act values it in his heart, more than all of life’s outward successes.

Jesus came from the obscurest corner of an obscure state, to be the light of the world. He taught a year, and died, and is the life of mankind. So it was seen that, when God gave Jesus to the human race, he gave us forever.

Jesus says, "Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die." That is, "to one who has my faith, my spirit, who trusts in the truth I teach, there is no such thing as death. God’s spirit which is in me, if it exist in you, will carry you upward and onward."

It is no magical influence which Jesus exercises on the soul. Faith in him is no talisman, but a moral power.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. James Freeman Clarke, 1886)

Sunday, January 2, 2022

God Gives Us Freedom of Choice! #JesusFollowers

God, our Creator, has created all of us with the awesome responsibility of the Freedom to Choose. The abilities and knowledge we inherit from God at our birth allow us to choose the Good, but has also left us with the ability to choose what is evil. It is in recognizing what is evil, and avoiding or repenting of it, then actively choosing the Good that we are considered Righteous by God.

In the Hebrew Bibles, and as taught by Jesus, God repeatedly tells us to "choose" and "obey" and that we will be judged according to our choices.

God, through Moses, said that His Law was “not too hard” so that we “could do it.” (Deut. 30:14) And God expected us to obey his moral commands, as Jesus repeated consistently. Jesus said that no one else would be charged with our disobedience, and no other would be responsible for our actions except ourselves.

In the very beginning of the Hebrew Bible, we learn in the story of Adam and Eve how men were entrusted with a Freedom of Choice. The story portrays God as giving Adam and Eve the choice of not eating from a tree of knowledge and remaining in a Garden of innocence forever, or eating from it and eventually dying, and leaving to make his own way in the world.

They chose to leave, and were told by God to "Be fruitful and multiply." This choice, and that of Eve, affected no one but them. And note that Adam and Eve - created in God's image (Gen. 1:27) - were created to be perfect by God, they lived in a perfect world, yet were able to disobey God. It was God's design that humans have choice.

Sin cannot be inherited. Here's how we know: God told Adam's son, Cain (just one generation after Adam!) that he COULD avoid sin, and MUST do so to avoid punishment (Gen. 4:7.)

God didn’t respect Cain and his offering, "So Cain was very angry, and the expression on his face fell. And Yahweh said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires you, but you must rule over it." (Gen. 4:5b-8)

If he was morally able to freely choose to do Good, and "rule over" his temptation, so may we!

Only Cain was affected by his subsequent evil choice. The Bible teaches us that sins are acts, not THINGS. Sins are what we commit or avoid, not a thing we inherit, biologically.

This is why Ezekiel records: "The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself." (Ezek. 18:19)

Just after the Exodus out of Egypt, Joshua told the Israelites to serve Yahweh their God, "in sincerity and in truth," and to "choose this day whom you will serve," (Joshua 24:14-15) Clearly, Joshua believed they could choose to faithfully serve God in sincerity and in truth.

The prophet Isaiah also clearly agreed with God that human beings were capable of choosing to, "reject the wrong and choose the right." (7:15)

Psalm 24 notes who may stand before God: "The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god." This strongly affirms our ability to obey God and seek to be righteous. If we cannot do these things, then literally no one would ever stand in God's presence. But that's not what the Bible teaches.

Psalm 25-27 are even more personal, with King David saying that he has (following repentance) led a clean life by choosing the righteous path. He had earlier written: "Yahweh dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me." (Psalm 18:20)

Jesus had high hopes for our moral abilities, and taught that we are to be, "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48) 

This same teacher - this human being chosen by God - said that he did all things that pleased God (John 8:29.)

He also said that we must follow him, doing ALL that he had done. (John 13:15; 14:12) Based on these teachings, we definitely have the ability to do great good, if we choose to do it. 

Choosing to do what's right can be hard sometimes, but that does not diminish our ability to do the good.

We have this God-given ability to seek Godliness, and we can become Godly and complete – not by ourselves without God or without God’s chosen example, but with God's ongoing help and with the example of Jesus always before us.

As we have seen here, it is NOT our inherited destiny to be "unable to not sin," and that we are not born so depraved that we may not choose what is good, and seek to do it. The scriptures teach that we may indeed choose NOT to sin.

Ecclesiasticus records the clearest statement of our freedom to choose, saying: "If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given. For great is the wisdom of the Lord; He is mighty in power and sees everything; His eyes are on those who fear Him, and He knows every human action. He has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and He has not given anyone permission to sin." (15:15-20)

It is God’s choice – His GRACE alone – whether we shall live with Him eternally. But it is up to us whether WE CHOOSE to seek this gift, and God says we demonstrate this choice by our actions.

We are called to commit our lives to obedience to God's chosen Son, Jesus, the Anointed Prophet of God, and submit to humbly walk with him, relying, as he taught, on God's grace and forgiveness and growing into the Righteous Perfection that God knows we are capable of achieving.

And while sin may be waiting by the door for us, seeking to master us, we are assured that we may indeed defeat – and master – sinful temptations.

This is amazingly good news, because it shows that our Creator knows us, and trusts us with the ability to act and choose to obey Him freely!

Through the teachings of Jesus, God shows us that He is a parent Who allows His children to make mistakes, repent, and turn back to doing what is right.

We should thank God, our Creator in Whose image we were created, for trusting us to make our own choices, and let’s pledge to always take that awesome responsibility seriously in all that we do in this new year.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

#Jesus Is Our Perfect Example! #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; and because he arrived at perfect obedience, doing in all things that for which he was sent by his Father, Jesus has shown by his example that all are able to obey God.

Jesus was 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.

He 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 an 1826 sermon by Elias Hicks)

Sunday, December 19, 2021

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

Later this week, on Christmas Day, we will "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, fully formed mission and a challenging religion of Good Works, scares them EVEN MORE!

So this adult Jesus isn't celebrated at Christmas. At all. And he rarely, if ever, makes an appearance the rest of the year, either.

So, just who is this Jesus?

Jesus, the adult, was of course born a baby, but he was born fully a human, of human parents, just as we were born. (He was recognized as such in the Gospels by his neighbors, by the Disciples, and by his parents.)

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 at his baptism 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 Christmas Day, and every day.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

What Does the Bible Say About Human Abilities? [#JesusFollowers

The Bible tells us that human beings were fearfully and wonderfully made, and created in the very image of God, the creator of all the universe. (Psalms 139:14, Genesis 1:27)

It includes no call for us to have a low opinion of God's creation, and the fact that God created us all in His image means that the teaching of Jesus that we are to love our neighbors exactly as we love ourselves is a pure reflection of this truth. (Mark 12:31)

Further, Jesus teaches us to have incredibly high ideals for ourselves and to seek them in our daily lives every day.

We are to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. We are to be merciful just as God is merciful. We are to love God with every fiber of our being. And yes, we are called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. (Matt. 5:48, Luke 6:36, Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:31)

There is nowhere in the teachings of Jesus to support the idea the God believes we cannot do all that He asks of us, or that these ideals are placed before us in order to tease us with our imperfection and inability to achieve them.

Indeed, there is nothing in Jesus' teachings and nothing in the writings of the Hebrew Prophets for which we can justify or excuse mediocre behavior towards God, who nonetheless is merciful towards us when we fall short of those ideals and ask humbly for His forgiveness.

The Hebrew Prophet Micah says, "Who is a God like You, Who pardons iniquity and passes over the transgressions of his remnant of His inheritance?" (Micah 34:7)

So, everything Jesus said points to the fact that we are wonderfully made creatures in the image of God, innocent children who are capable of acting in a Godly manner.

And of course this is utterly consistent with the Hebrew Bible's teachings - teachings with which Jesus was completely familiar and believed were Scripture inspired by God.

Once we recognize this, new vistas open up on the pages of Scripture and in the teachings of Jesus because they become the art of the possible, and a reasonable and joyous challenge for us.

The teachings of Jesus thus become for us a template for living, an actual guide for Life as God wishes us to live it.

The Hebrew Bible, especially the Wisdom books in the moral teachings of the Prophets, is filled with verses calling human beings to achieve great things and live active lives of holiness and service to others.

"Be holy, for I am holy," declares God in Leviticus (11:44). "To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to Yahweh than sacrifice." (Proverbs 21:3). "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked." (Psalms 1:1). "Depart from evil and do good." (Psalms 34:14). 

In these Scriptures, we are viewed as noble and able beings, capable of achieving what God has called us to do.

"A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things," says Jesus. (Matt. 12:35) 

But yes, this same Bible is filled with people, and entire nations, who failed to live up to those standards.

Let us not be fooled by these Scriptures' ample examples of those who fell short of the ideals set by God.

The very fact that those were made examples for us means that they are there on the pages to inspire us to avoid such mistakes and to do better than they did.

For example, King David was guilty of great sins and misdeeds. He repented of these (Psalms 7) and went on to serve God in holiness, saying, "Yahweh has rewarded me according to my righteousness. According to the cleanness of my hands he has recompensed me." (Psalms 18:20)

We, too, are called to Holiness and to piety by King David's example and by that of Jesus, who pleased God and did all the things that He asked him to do (John 8:29) and was chosen as his spokesman and Son at his baptism (Luke 3:22). He calls us to follow him, and to do all the he did. (Matt. 4:19, John 13:15, 14:12) And unless those are empty words, our Master meant for us to do just that.

We know that with the help of our Father in heaven, we may humbly seek to walk in the steps of His Son, Jesus, taking up our cross daily to follow him. By this, we become the beings that God created us to be, and we build God's kingdom on Earth with our acts of kindness and service.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

5 Ways Modern Christmas Is Not Far from Jesus. #JesusFollowers

Is Modern Christmas really that far from the teachings of Jesus? In many ways, it certainly is.

It focuses on “getting” far more than giving, on money and acquiring expensive things rather than on God and accruing spiritual riches, and it can often put the focus on pride, and ourselves, rather than on giving to others.

In all these things, the Christmas that we keep today is indeed far from Jesus, and from the God Who chose him to be our example and guide in all things.

Then again, our Modern Church often also reflects these failings, being too inwardly focused, centered on obtaining money and materialism, and obsessed with “rock star” preachers with huge egos.

But do those who get so upset this time of year about how “secular” Christmas has become in our lives have a point? Or are they missing some of the wonderful redeeming values of the Season, even as most non-Christians celebrate it? Let’s take a look.

1. Modern Christmas has become a time for giving, with an emphasis on those in need.
Jesus in fact said we are to give to those in need.

Jesus does not say IF we give to the needy, he gives us instructions on how to act WHEN we give to the needy (Matt. 6:2-3.) While we are not to “trumpet” our good deeds JUST to be seen by others in a prideful way, we are clearly and specifically told to give to the poor (Matt. 10:21) and “give to the one who begs from you” (Matt. 5:42.)

2. Modern Christmas features people coming around the table for big meals – including friends, co-worker, long-lost relatives and even the “black sheep” of the family.

Jesus invited people to dinner; some who weren't on the guest list of the wealthy and powerful.

“When you give a feast,” he says, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:13.) He ate with outcasts, including hated tax-collectors and with sinners (Matt. 9:10-13.) He expanded his definition of “family” to all who did the will of God (Matt 12:50.) All of this outraged the religious elites of the day.

3. Modern Christmas has become a particular time for expressing love to people, and for reconciliation, even among enemies.

Jesus called people to love one another. Even our enemies. At all times.

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44.) We are called by Jesus to love our God with all our hearts, mind, strength and soul, and to extend this same love to our neighbors (Luke 10:27.) Before gift-giving, Jesus said we must reconcile with our siblings (Matt 5:23-24.)

4. Modern Christmas has become a time when people are focused on doing good to others.

Jesus calls us to do Good Works and serve others righteously and in humility.

Jesus says, “Do unto others that which you would have done unto you” (Matt 7:12.) Jesus wishes us to, "observe all that I have commanded you." (Matt. 28:20) and says we will do even greater works than he did (John 14:12) Jesus clearly says we must “Do Good” (Luke 6:35) and serve others.

“I was hungry and you gave me food,” says Jesus. “I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” (Matt 25:35.) In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we are called to, “Go, and do the same.” (Luke 10:37)

5. Modern Christmas has become a time when we celebrate light in winter.

Jesus calls us to always let our Good Works be a beacon of light, representing God’s Kingdom made “real” in the world.

We are to let our “Light shine, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” But we cannot keep our goodness hidden, but like a lamp on a table or a city on a hill, we must show God’s love to the world through our actions. (Matt. 5:14-16.)

Jesus tells us how to show this service to God – so that God’s Kingdom would come (Matt. 6:10) – and also how to serve others: to clothe the naked, care for the sick, house the homeless, feed the hungry (Matt. 25:35-41.)

Of course, the clear difference between the “secular” Christmas and the Message Jesus proclaims to us is that Jesus’ message is what we who follow him are called to follow year-round, not just during one season.

None other than that secular Christmas celebrant, Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, said the same. “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

That, too, is what Jesus asks of us. And as Tiny Tim might say, “May God bless us, everyone,” at this precious time of the year, and always.