Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Character of Jesus’ Teachings #JesusFollowers

There is a wonderful simplicity, plainness, directness and grandeur in Jesus’ instructions, and in the mode of communicating them. 

From the first recorded instance of his teaching to the last, he displays a knowledge of human character, and an adaptation of the lessons given, to the wants of men, in speaking of God, of His worship, of His purposes, there is no hesitancy, no embarrassment. Jesus speaks about these things as topics perfectly familiar to his mind.

The same is true of the great principles of duty laid down by him. Of that eternal future, which, to every other teacher has been a dark and mysterious theme, he speaks in Words easy to be understood, yet of mighty power to reach and awaken all the powers of the soul. 

It would seem as if he indeed had been in the bosom of the Father, and was commissioned to bring to men His counsels; as if he needed no other testimony than the very lessons which he taught, to the truth of his own declaration, "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me."

A God is revealed by Jesus whom the understanding may reverence, and feel itself exalted by its communion with Him - a God whom the heart may love, and, as its affections are fixed upon him, may find in its own emotions an earnest of that fullness of joy, which is the hope of the gospel.

Man is to worship God by making his heart the altar of incense. His mind, his soul, his all, is to be consecrated to God; and his worship is to be a rational and affectionate conversation with Him. 

We have also in the Gospel the great principles which are to guide men in all their personal habits, and their social relations. And the simplicity of his teachings, which make them so easy to be understood and applied, displays the consummate wisdom of the teacher.

His mode of teaching is no less peculiar and striking than the lessons taught. It is so simple, that all can understand them. 

In these teachings, God is everywhere, religious principle is combined with everything, man’s responsibility and destiny are kept perpetually in view. There are no formal dissertations, weighty truths or glowing pictures. It would seem as if it was the perpetual object of the Master to pour into the human mind the full light of heaven, to render visible the miseries to which guilt must doom the soul, and the glories which await, if we are pure and holy.

There is also a peculiar individuality in the instructions of Jesus. He addressed masses of people, but they stood before him, not as masses, but as individuals. They were made to feel this. They were made to clearly understand that their happiness was dependent not upon their descent, their privileges or their connections; but upon their personal characters. 

Under what circumstances did Jesus commence his glorious career? At a period marked by moral degradation, among a people attached to the mere ceremonials of religion, narrow-minded and bigoted, proud of their national distinction, and uniting with their boastful show of religious observances the utmost corruption of manners. 

This people had expected, indeed, a reformer; but what had they anticipated in him? Certainly not one who would rebuke their sins, cast away their moral and religious sentiments, and establish the empire of righteousness, but one who would flatter their pride, lead them into battle, give splendor to their monarchy, and enable them to tread their oppressors in the dust. 

This is the nation in which Jesus grew up. Yet their bigotry, formality, and prejudice did not affect him in the least degree. He came forward with the most comprehensive, enlightened, generous teachings, suited to all times and to all people. 

The teachings of Jesus, where they have been faithfully studied and applied, have led the human mind in its upward course, and brought into the heart a more thorough goodness. 

They have been found adapted to the condition and needs of the most cultivated minds; and, let humanity go on for a hundred centuries improving, his teachings will be still be leading us, still pioneering our onward progress. 

This is a wonderful fact, considering the circumstances under which our religion was promulgated, and attests with power the divine authority of its founder, and the manner in which he brought to us his great and God-anointed mission.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Nathan Parker, 1831)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

God Has Always Forgiven Us (And Still Does!) #JesusFollowers


That God pardons us, and is merciful, isn't something new. In fact, it was known long before the time of Jesus.

God’s prophet Ezekiel spoke of God's attitude towards forgiveness, saying, "I say to the righteous, 'He shall surely live,' but if he trusts in his righteousness, and still does wicked things, none of his righteous deeds will be remembered. Because of the wicked things he has done, he shall die." (Ezekiel 33:14)

And another prophet, Isaiah, says: "Let the wicked man abandon his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to YAHWEH, so he may have mercy on him, to our God, for He will freely forgive." (55:7)

If the idea that God forgives the sins of those who repent was fully known to the Jewish people before the time of Jesus, how, then, can we say Jesus saves those who sin?

Jesus says: "I am the light of the world:" (8:12) “whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." And, "Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus, whom You have sent." (John 17:3)

When Jesus called people to the hope of eternal life, he said they must change their evil ways, putting behind them all evil things they were doing before. This was to make them qualified for the eternal happiness they would have with God, because God is the opposite of evil.

Jesus’ teaching was practical – telling us what we should DO to attain eternal life, not just what to BELIEVE about it.

The Apostle Peter spoke to his fellow Jews, telling them: “God, having raised up his servant, Jesus, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from evil ways.” (Acts 3:26)

This was how they were to be blessed or saved by Jesus: by listening to the preaching of his Apostles, who spoke in his name, and who urged them to stop sinning.

The Judeans expected great earthly riches from their Messiah. Instead, Jesus and his Apostles said they were to gain great moral blessings by knowing the Gospel, and by becoming holy and good through their actions. THIS was what would qualify them for eternal life with God.

It is THIS way that Jesus saves sinners: by calling them to turn back to God from their misguided ways, towards walking in the holy ways God wishes all of us to walk.

If we learn from Jesus, whose words and example are set before us by his life and teachings, we can begin to work towards virtue and holiness and doing God’s will above self-centered actions and immoral actions. Then, if strive to keep on the narrow road, eternal life may be ours, God willing.

But many aren’t satisfied with this plain and simple way of salvation, which is spelled out by Jesus and the Apostles, who obeyed his teachings. Instead, they want to be saved, but continue to sin. Many want eternal life after death, but wish to live opposed to God while they’re still alive.

So, by twisting a few verses, they fail to see the role of Jesus as a teacher of righteousness who calls us to obey and do good works. They imagine it was his goodness ALONE that allows God to forgive His creatures, and that if we only believe this, we can gain an “instant salvation" that gives us a loophole that lets us continue to sin, but still get a reward from God. They want to pretend that Jesus is the only one who needs to obey God, but not us!

They want to “trust” in another’s righteousness, but continue to do evil things! Didn’t Ezekiel warn us of this very mistake?

This is wrong because our heavenly Father has always been merciful towards his children, and is ready with open arms to receive them to his mercy simply when they repent, without the actions of any other person on their behalf.

The sufferings of our Master, Jesus, he did by obeying God, and this is a powerful example for us, convincing us to change our attitudes and reconcile us to God – but his suffering did not change God’s mind about us, since God was, and remains, always ready to show us kindness and mercy.

It’s foolish to passively expect God to Grant us salvation; and even more foolish to believe we can demand it from a position of laziness – refusing to repent and change our lives, as God requires us to do.

We have to make ourselves ready and qualified for salvation by adopting a holy attitude and actively building virtuous habits.

And these changes can’t happen within us unless we actively want them to happen. It’s this constant striving for moral perfection, working in goodness, imitating our Master and Example, Jesus, that Jesus calls us to do.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

What Can We Change? #JesusFollowers

Nearly everyone has heard the “Serenity Prayer” which says: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The Stoics of ancient Greece also had a similar belief. Epictetus wrote, in his book the Enchiridion, "Of things, some are in our power, and others are not."

Jesus also addressed change. Some things, he says, cannot be changed, and some things aren’t worth worrying about.

"Do not be anxious about your life," he says, "what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?" (Matt. 6:25)

And in another place, he says, “Which of you, by being anxious, can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matt. 6:27)

While we can temporarily change the color of our hair, in fact, it cannot be changed but remains the same color in the long run. (Matt. 5:36)

In the Book of Proverbs, we learn that having anxiety can weigh us down (Prob. 12:25) and then there’s the oft-quoted Psalm 55, urging us to “Cast your burdens [cares] on Yahweh, and He will sustain you. (Psalm 55:22)

Jesus’ meaning, and the meaning of these other sayings of scripture, is that those things that we cannot change, we shouldn’t waste time worrying about.

And that’s very wise advice.

But while the Hebrew Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus are filled with admonitions to not waste time on things that aren’t changeable – nor worth changing – Jesus clearly calls us to change ourselves, to be “born again,” to repent of our previous bad actions, and also calls on us to ACTIVELY do Good Works that will build God’s Kingdom here on this earth. (Matt. 5:16, 6:10, 7:24; Luke 6:33-35)

He says we must “turn” (change) and become like little children, otherwise we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 18:3) That's work.

He calls on us to feed others, and clothe and house them. He calls for active service in the name of God and the name of God’s Kingdom. (Matt. 25:35) That's work, too.

Today, his message is often missed, or entirely overlooked, because it’s hard. And we like things that are easy.

God is seen by many as a pill we can take to get easy, fast relief, to stop working. God becomes OUR servant, a “mother’s little helper” in whom we can rest. And finding spiritual rest in God is certainly part of what God is, and what God offers us, in our always-busy, hectic lives.

But God should never be seen as our servant, but as our Creator, and Master, One Whom has sent us a perfect template, and it is through him that God calls us to a life of service and self-sacrifice.

Change can often be misunderstood. There’s certainly a time to “let go and let God” but neither God nor the one whom he chose, Jesus, calls on us to abdicate all our responsibilities to God or to others – to become lazy, complacent Christians. Instead, He and His chosen son, Jesus, call on us to be active participants in the creation of a new world.

There’s definitely a time for letting go, and giving things a chance to work themselves out. There’s also a time to jump in and do all that we can to make good things happen. Knowing when to do either is the result of wisdom, and if we lack wisdom to know the difference, we should pray that God will grant us more wisdom so we can discern it.

But taking a default “let go” attitude means that we’ve given up on life. It means that we believe God exists only to do all of our work for us, all of the Good Works that He expects US to do, as we bring in God’s Kingdom on this earth.

We are to be Jesus’ active hands and feet, serving others as Jesus perfectly modeled for us to do. Jesus called us to ACT, and he constantly moved from place to place urging people to do all that he did, and to feed, clothe, house and comfort one another.

Giving up and hoping that God will do all this FOR us is not what we are called to do as Jesus Followers. While some things are clearly out of our control, much of what occurs in our lives can be changed by our actions, and must be.

Let us put aside needless and pointless anxiety about what we cannot change. But let us also have the courage to get up each day and simply do the Good Works we were called by God through His chosen one, Jesus, to do.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

We Exist To Do Good Works For Others #JesusFollowers



Jesus teaches that we exist to love and acknowledge God, and to love and acknowledge the other human beings around us. 

Selfishness can't play any part in our lives, if we have accepted a call to serve Jesus as our God-appointed Master.

Recognizing the needs of others around us, and acting to serve those needs, is what Jesus calls us to do. 

If we believe this, then worshiping God simply as a means to advance our own lives, our own desires, and our own wants, is completely contrary to the teachings of the one we call "lord" (which in fact means 'Master,' and should always be read as such.) (Luke 6:46)

To arrogantly say that we will give Jesus praise, and even worship, but not obedience, is something for which he did not ask, and against which he specifically warned. (Matt. 7:21)

And merely seeking to save ourselves - both here and eternally - while neglecting the needs of others, is a false religion.  (Luke 9:25; James 1:27)

Instead, Jesus, the one whom God anointed as our example, calls us to deny ourselves, and serve others with every fiber of our being, so that we might be an example and light to the world. (Luke 4:18; Matt. 16:24; 5:16)

The God of the universe, says Jesus, created us to serve and love God, and one another (John 13:34.)

Jesus replied, “This is the most important [commandment]: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

We are not relieved of our obligation to serve by saying that other teachers after Jesus taught we are born unable to do Good Works, that we are not required to serve others, or even that a government will do the work for us.

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments," says Jesus. (John 14:15)

Simply ignoring or abdicating to others our duty to ACT to love and serve our neighbors doesn't get us off the hook with God.

No, the words of our Master take precedence over those who came after him, and even those who claim to speak in his name, even as they downplay his commands. We have one Master, and one God who sent him out to preach to the world. (Matt. 6:24; 24:35.)

Jesus' words, he said, were not spoken on his own authority, but on God's (John 14:10) and Jesus said his actions always pleased God (John 8:29) making him our perfect example in all things.

Jesus does not tell us to pray for riches, for advancement, wealth, or status (Matt. 23:11-12; John 8:50). He preaches nothing but our duty to do Good Works as a means of bringing in an Earthly kingdom - a pattern of God's will, made manifest here and now, a mirror of the perfection that exists with God in Heaven. (Luke 4:43; Matt. 6:10)

So we cannot pass off our duty to serve others to our neighbors, to a religious institution, or our government. We must act, says Jesus, to fill our neighbors' needs. And only those who do act are doing the will of God. (Luke 6:46-49)

"Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand even more." (Luke 14:48)

And let's not worry about whether we are trying to "earn our Salvation" by our Good Works. Jesus and the God of Israel consistently say that we will be judged ONLY by our works, and that those Works will be judged only by our creator, not by ourselves, and not by our neighbors or our pastors. (Matt. 5:20, 12:37, 16:27, 19:17, 25:41-46; Luke 10:26-28; John 5:29, Matthew 25:41-46.)

Either judging our own works "good enough" to earn heaven or (perhaps worse) NOT good enough, is not our call. It's God's call alone. (Psalm 62:12; James 4:12; Matt. 7:1; 16:27)

"Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges the earth." (Psalms 58:11)

While Jesus does say that we are not to brag about our Works of service simply for the sake of bragging (Matt. 6:1) we are nonetheless called by him to perform those Good Works on behalf of others who are suffering and in need, in order to emulate the example of Jesus, for all the world to see.

“I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15.)

Let us pray to God our Father to renew and perfect the spiritual strength He  granted us at birth, further equipping us to serve Him more perfectly by serving others.

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.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

We're Responsible To God For Our Own Actions! #JesusFollowers


There is no truth more clearly taught in in the scriptures than this: that God will render to every man according to his deeds. The scriptures contain scores of passages which teach us that God will bring every work into judgement, whether it be good or whether it be evil.

Being accountable to God for our actions, those who set His laws at defiance are justly deserving of a punishment, and can be sure of their reward.

In relation to the native characters of human beings, we all came into the world pure; that is, free from any innate depravity, and are born into the world without a moral character; we neither possess any positive virtue, nor actual vice; but we inherit a nature which is capable of both. We cannot believe a God of infinite mercy would bring His own offspring into being under a load of hereditary guilt. 

We also cannot admit that infants in all ages are "liable to the pains of hell forever," in consequence of the sin of our first parents – a sin committed without their knowledge or agency, and thousands of years before they had a being.

The scriptures teach us that infants are free from moral defilement. Our Savior took up little children in his arms and blessed them, and pronounced them heirs of his kingdom. But if they had been totally depraved, filled with all that is evil, would he have taken them up in his arms and blessed them? Had they been embryos of hell, as they are frequently represented, Jesus would not have pronounced them heirs of his kingdom. Again, our Master says, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:3)

With these, and several other passages before us, we are constrained to believe that we are born into the world pure. The doctrine of imputation appears to be cruelly unjust. Every man is accountable for himself, and for himself alone. The scriptures assure us that, "the father shall not bear the iniquity of the son, nor the son the iniquity of the father." (Ezek. 18:20)

Such passages entirely destroy the doctrine of imputation. All who arrive at years of understanding are depraved in some degree, but their depravity is of their own making.

How is it possible to transfer the guilt of Adam's sin to me? I cannot be criminal, unless I have a consciousness of committing the act, and I cannot have this consciousness of committing the act, unless I have in fact committed it; and if I have in fact committed the sin, it ceases to be Adam's, and becomes my own.

The doctrine of total depravity appears to impeach both the wisdom and goodness of the Deity. If we are the subjects of this total corruption, the revelation which God has given us would be useless.  If God requires all to love him, was it wise of Him to give us a nature which would forever prevent our compliance?

The scriptures assure that God will punish sin. But does it not infringe upon His goodness to say He will punish us for our sins which the nature He gave us compels us to perform? 

There is no truth more sacred than this: that we are accountable for our actions, just as far as we have an ability to perform our duty, and no farther. Whenever you limit our ability to do good, there our accountability ceases.

We must contend for moral virtue. I object to the contemptuous manner in which some speak of morality. Some denounce moral excellence as "dry morality," and insinuate that it is akin to infidelity. If moral goodness is the fruit of infidelity, then give us infidelity in preference to that Christianity which teaches us to slight virtuous actions. 

We may perform good actions from bad motives. In such a case, there is no moral worth in such an act. But if we perform good actions from benevolent motives, they are in the exercise of practical Christianity. Whoever does to others as they desire them to do to him, obeys the requirement of the religion of Jesus.

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father," (James 1:27) consists in gratitude to God, good will to others, and watchfulness over our own conduct. 

If we do not exercise charity one to another; if we do not deal justly with our fellow creatures, our religion is of a spurious kind. As Christians, it is our duty to correct our own faults, rather than point out those of others.

We should so favor excellence of character, so that all preaching ought to be directed to this one object, namely, to make people better. Religion in theory should not be valued as much as in practice. Further, religion has no value unless it effects the conduct and renders people virtuous and good. Not that theoretical religion doesn’t have worth, but its value lies entirely in its influence upon the mind and the heart.

That system of doctrines which does not exert an influence over the person is useless. Every scheme, therefore, which is made up of cold speculations which cannot warm the affections, or of inexplicable mysteries which no mortal can comprehend, is not worth professing.

(Adapted from a Sermon by Rev. Charles Hudson, 1795-1881)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

#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; because 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 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.

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, July 16, 2017

God's Kingdom is why #Jesus Lived and Preached! #JesusFollowers


Why was Jesus born? And what was the purpose of his life and ministry?

Was he born simply as a bag of flesh, destined only to later die as a ritual sacrifice that would appease an angry god and "cover" our future sins with his remote and perfect goodness, if we simply believed he existed?

We find nothing in his words to suggest that scenario, despite the popularity of this misguided belief.

Or, instead, did God choose this righteous man to spread a good and beneficial message and to be our perfect example of how God wishes us to live? Jesus' own words suggest this is far closer to the Truth, such as when he says, "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I WAS SENT FOR THIS PURPOSE” (Luke 4:43.)

Jesus' ministry and life's message was entirely focused on this Kingdom of God - the ideal realm of Heaven that Jesus said should be made a reality here on earth, "as it is in Heaven" (Matt. 6:10.) That this is a spiritual and not a temporal one is also clear from his own words (John 18:36.)

It's a kingdom in which we are called to be righteous, merciful, and complete ("perfect") just as God is (Matt. 5:20, 5:48, Luke 6:36) and just as the man Jesus - whom God chose as his spokesman - modeled for us with the example of his selfless life and death (John 13:15; 1 John 2:6.)

"Seek first the Kingdom of God" he tells us (Matt. 6:33.) He warns us to not store up treasure on earth that can rust or rot away, but to instead seek Heavenly treasure that lasts forever (Matt. 6:19-20.)

He calls us to love our Creator with ALL of our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30) and to not only love our neighbors as we love ourselves (12:31) but extend that love and compassion to strangers we encounter on the roadside and to even our enemies (Matt. 5:44.)

Long ignored by Christian ministers as quaint or out-of-date, Jesus' call to "whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" (Matt. 7:12) summaries his entire ministry and the Hebrew Bible's teaching.

In all of this, we see that our actions matter. We will be judged according to our deeds (Matt. 16:27) and our eternal life in God's presence will be determined by our acts, not our vain words (Matt. 6:7.)

We are called to "remain in his love," and we may do this by obeying him and following after his example.

"If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commandments and remain in his love," he tells us (John 15:10.)

Jesus makes it clear that entrance into this Kingdom is NOT without commitment on our part. It's not a wide gate the entire world will choose (Matt. 7:13.) Only those who DO the will of God, our Father, will gain entry to it (Matt 7:21.)

The teachings Jesus left us are the most valuable legacy we can inherit. His words will never pass away (Mark 13:31.)

The death of Jesus was a continuation of his life – his message of extreme self-sacrifice and love for others, and a voluntary act of devotion to both his "friends" and to God. Who are his friends? Those who do as he commands (John 15:12-14.) Those who would make his death into a magical charm that gives them a "get out of jail free" card so they can continue to sin and forgo Good Works are degrading and spitting on Jesus' cross, not honoring it.

And those who are quick to say "Lord, Lord!" but forget it means "Master, Master!" should remember that by claiming Jesus as our Master and God's representative, we must obey his teachings, not just praise his name.

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, but gain eternity.

This is a faith worth having and a Master worth serving - a faith that bring us life, and life more abundantly (John 10:10.) Those who would throw it away by minimizing and glossing over Jesus' words are throwing God's Kingdom away, and this is one thing all who love God must never do.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Prayer, According to #Jesus! #JesusFollowers


We all have our own ideas about what it means to pray to God, and how to do it. But as followers of Jesus, we should be looking towards him and his words for guidance, and when we do, we might be surprised what he has to say.

"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Note: the Greek word here for “reward” means “wages.”)

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:5-12)

Jesus clearly spells out a few things we must bear in mind when praying:

1. We should not be praying in public – in church gatherings or street corners –  in order to be seen as pious.
2. We should pray in secret. The words for “room” (elsewhere “closet”) means a secret storeroom where people of his time would go to be in private. Where better to seek the infinite storeroom of God’s spiritual strength!
3. We must not heap up many empty phrases because we think God hears us better when we use a lot of words.
4. God knows what we need before we ask.
5. Jesus gives us a simple prayer by which we can express our gratitude to God and our acknowledgement of Him.

Many Christians want God to be our magic genie, our butler and our doorman, and He cannot be any of these. And even as Jesus consistently preached that we should desire spiritual things and not earthly treasures (Matt. 6:19-20; Luke 12:33) many Christians pray to God for new cars, more money, a promotion and for an end to sickness and pain. That’s witchcraft, not faith in God.

We should be seeking God’s help to overcome adversity, endure suffering, avoid temptation, and grow stronger from all that the world sends our way, and speak to God about all things and all of our troubles and concerns.

But asking for cold hard cash (or a new car, or a raise, or a companion of the opposite sex) from the Creator of the Universe is 180 degrees from what Jesus taught us to do.

He also said God already knows what we need, so we should not raise up endless words to God, as the pagans do. That seems to be good "advice" from our Master, Jesus, doesn't it?

So, bearing in mind that Jesus repeatedly tells us to seek spiritual things, and not material things, and that the poor will be, and are, blessed, and that the rich will find it extremely difficult to inherit eternal life with God, why would we spend time praying for riches?

Why, indeed, would we pray for ourselves, our own material needs, or our own self-gratification, when Jesus says God doesn't favor any of us in particular?

Why would we send up words of petition to God demanding material goods, when we know that is not what God sends?

Why pray for special, material, favors, when we know God shows no partiality and cannot be bribed with our words (Deut. 10:17) and that it rains both on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45)?

Why pray that Nature obey our whims, when we know that God isn’t in the storms or natural disasters (1 King 19:11-12) but in the caring and loving response to them when we are damaged by them?

Why send up many, many vain and repetitious prayers when Jesus tells us God does not listen to them?

To seek ANY material things that will rust and become moth-eaten from our Creator seems to make God very small and petty. Lucky for us, God isn't a Genie, or a magician, or our personal doorman, holding open or slamming shut doors on a whim, known only to Him.

And to make God into a master manipulator or puppet master makes this life meaningless and pointless. God granted us the freedom to do good or to turn our backs on Him and do evil.

When King David prayed to God, he prayed seeking to be renewed and for his soul to be restored (Psalm 23:3) and acknowledged that it was God Who would lead him towards righteousness. This is just as it should be.

Through Jesus, the one God has anointed as His Son and Prophet, we know that God wishes us to seek Him in prayer for spiritual, not material, things. Let us pray with honor and respect to the One Who created us and has the ability to give us all the spiritual help we need from his vast spiritual storehouse.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Salvation According To #Jesus (Part 2) #JesusFollowers


Our Master’s descriptions of the conditions of salvation are not abstract and formal, but concrete and realistic. The first word in Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom was, "Repent" (Mark 1:15).

But not only must we repent; we must turn (Matt. 17:3) — turn away from the old life, and in humility and self-surrender take up the life of obedience to God.

Men must become as little children in humility and trustfulness, must take his yoke of instruction and discipline upon them, must bear his cross of sacrifice and service, must do the will of the Father, must take up the duties of membership in his Kingdom and cultivate the virtues required by its law, must become like the Father himself whose perfection is love.

Such are some of the principal ways in which Jesus spoke of salvation. We must become and live as God's true sons, obedient to His will, trustful in His care, morally like Him in motive and purpose.

Jesus had no favorite formula by which he expressed the nature and conditions of salvation, such, for example, as justification by faith. While popular and theological terminology for the discussion of the subject of Salvation is scriptural, it is derived much more largely from the language of others than from that of Jesus himself.

But Jesus did not analyze the process of attaining salvation nor define its various steps and stages.

Faith is the positive counterpart of repentance. In the parable of the Lost Son, penitence is illustrated in the prodigal's remorse and misery; faith is the resolution and act of returning to his home and his father.

He pictured the Father's house as standing open, and the Father's heart as ready and waiting to receive the wandering, lost son. It lay within the power of that erring son to forsake his evil life and escape it by returning to his Father with a penitent and obedient heart.

Jesus viewed his teaching and example as saving in their effect upon us. He sought by these means to strengthen in us our desires and efforts for a better life – the life of Sonship to God, which is salvation.

He presented a conception of God which was attractive and adapted to move the heart to penitence for sin and to gratitude and obedience. He illustrated the Godlike life among men in his benevolent works, in his sympathy with suffering, and in the encouragement which he gave to every good aspiration and endeavor.

He set the highest value upon small deeds, if done from love or pity, and declared that he who even received into his favor a righteous man because he was a righteous man, should receive a righteous man's reward.

The life of Jesus, with its various expressions of itself in word and act, was a powerful saving agency in his time, and still remains such. The teaching of Jesus gives us no warrant to speak so slightingly as is commonly done of his “mere” example.

Let us not minimize by silence or by qualifying words what Jesus placed in the very forefront of his message to mankind; the declaration that the door of God's Kingdom stood open before them so they might enter then and there if they would, and that he had come to show them the way.

I am the world's light; by me men know the Father, God's Kingdom is in your midst - by such words as these Jesus announced a present salvation, available at the moment, and himself as the guide to its realization.

Adapted from a 1917 Sermon by Rev. George Barker Stevens

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Salvation According To #Jesus (Part 1) #JesusFollowers


What does salvation mean in the teaching of Jesus? He declared that he came to seek and to save the lost. He frequently expressed the purpose of his mission in another set of term: He came to found the Kingdom of God and to induce humanity to enter it.

To be saved and to enter the Kingdom of God must mean substantially the same. He also spoke of men becoming sons of God and of being like God. In view of such expressions there is hardly room for doubt as to what the idea of salvation was as it lay in the mind of Jesus. It is the life of obedience to God, or, more fundamentally stated, it is the life of Sonship or moral likeness to God. 

Jesus came into the world to save us in the sense that he came to win us, to help us to, live the life of fellowship with God and of likeness to him. Jesus described salvation as a moral recovery from an evil life.

It is seen in the life of that lost son who repudiates all his natural obligations to his father and friends, abandons all restraints, and gives himself over to a life of selfish gratification.

It is seen in the Pharisee with his counterfeit piety, trying for social advantage - to seem what he inwardly knows he is not.

It is seen in the hardness, the cruelty, the intolerance of the rich and ruling classes of the age; in the pitilessness of a priest and a Levite who put social distinctions above humanity

These are examples of sin as Jesus views it. They are the "lost" who are forfeiting their lives in selfishness in its various forms: pride, hypocrisy, sensuality, cruelty, hatred. All these sins are simply various phases of that self-gratification in which a person loses their real, true self.

From this kind of life, we need to be saved. This can be done in only by a change in our motives and purposes. The sinful life can only be abandoned by being replaced. Love must supplant selfishness; kindness, humility, and sympathy must replace hardness, arrogance, and indifference.

We are to be saved to a life of service and helpfulness. We must learn that to give our lives is to save them.

Jesus' idea of salvation centers in his idea of God. His most characteristic description of God is as the bountiful Giver. With liberal hand He pours out His blessings upon all. His love is large and generous. He is ready and eager to bestow His gifts. This impulse to give and to bless springs from God's boundless, universal love.

Love is the law, not, primarily, because God enjoins it, but because it is the principle of His own moral perfection. His requirements are grounded in His Nature.

The life of love is the Godlike life; it is the life of Sonship; it constitutes men members of the Kingdom of heaven; it is salvation.

This teaching of Jesus does not minimize the requirements of holiness.

He knows nothing of a love which is not holy and morally exacting. Love is no mere easy, good nature. It rebukes and punishes evil, while it yearns to forgive and cure it.

There is no lack of strenuousness in our Master’s doctrine of salvation. The divine love repudiates and condemns sin, and there is no salvation which is not salvation from sin to holiness.

Adapted from a 1917 Sermon by Rev. George Barker Stevens 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Do the WORDS of #Jesus Really Matter? #JesusFollowers


A world famous preacher likes to say that Jesus did “three day’s work” and that is all he ever did. By this, he means that he died, spent time in a tomb, and then rose to Heaven. That, to him, was all Jesus was good for.

But this ignores the mission of Jesus: to teach and preach. Jesus’ words, in the view of that minister, mean nothing.

But we cannot ignore Jesus' words, because Jesus said his words and teachings would last forever. Anyone teaching people to disregard his teachings, therefore, is misleading us.

Jesus said that to hear and follow his words is like building a house on solid rock (Luke 6:48) and whoever is ashamed of him and his words is the one Jesus will be ashamed of (Mark 8:38.)

He said to the Apostles at one point, "You don't also want to go away, do you?" Peter answered him, "Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:67-68.)

Peter was right. Where, indeed, and to WHOM would we get better information about eternal life and salvation from sin than Jesus himself? There is no one other than Jesus we need to hear when it comes to this important subject.

The words of Jesus have no expiration date.

Jesus never said that his teachings and words to the Apostles were directed only to those living in Roman Judea. Instead, he says, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." (Matt. 24:35) While he did address certain things to his fellow Jews alone, his message and moral teachings are universal. Jesus never told us his words were only meant for a certain time in history.

There are no better teachings than the words of Jesus himself.

Jesus didn't say that after his ministry ended, someone else would be coming to interpret his words or change his teachings. Jesus said, “EVERYTHING that I learned from my Father, I have MADE KNOWN to you." Matt. 15:15. No further revelations are required for us to “learn” about God and God’s Will for our lives.

Jesus spoke on God's authority.

Jesus' words, he said, were not spoken on his own authority, but on God's (John 14:10) and Jesus said his actions always pleased God (John 8:29) making him our perfect example in all things.

If we believe this, then Jesus' words and actions reflect the Will of God, Who chose and anointed Jesus as God's spokesman, sending him out to preach a Good and Beneficial Message ("Gospel".) (Luke 4:18)

There is nothing greater, then, than the teachings of Jesus. They are to be the focus of our lives.

An often overlooked phrase in a popular verse, Jesus calls on us to teach and make disciples of all nations, and also, "teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you." All of his teachings, therefore, have eternal and profound significance, and deserve to be known by all peoples.

His clear teachings, which call on us to perform Good Works, to seek heavenly treasures rather than earthly ones, to pray and act righteously without doing so just to be seen by others, to actively serve others, especially the poor, to turn the other cheek, to love and pray for enemies, and to go the extra mile in all that we do, HAVE NEVER BEEN CHANGED. Nor can we explain them away or minimize their importance, or allow others to do so.

Jesus' words have not been repealed. His teachings remain in effect today. And his words were spoken in order to be followed by those who claim to love him.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

12 Ways #Jesus Challenges Us to Be Better! #JesusFollowers


Jesus' ministry was a call to humanity to come back to God, our Creator. That’s not a minor thing, nor is it a call that can leave us unchanged.

In fact, while we may come to God “as we are,” we cannot remain unchanged after approaching our Heavenly Father, Who is our Creator.

God chose Jesus, anointed him, and sent him out to preach His Truth.

Jesus’ ministry calls us to make changes to our life, as well as to humbly approach God in repentance. Without action on our part, starting with repentance, we aren’t truly returning to God, but simply SAYING we are.

Jesus calls us to be better people. Mere belief is not enough, but is only the start of our Faith. If we say we love Jesus, we will keep his commands (John 14:15.)

Those who claim to know him, but don’t believe his commands are worth following, or are “irrelevant” or are superseded by another person’s teachings, are liars, and don’t really know Jesus at all (1 John 2:4.)

Here, then, are a few (not all) of the commands Jesus gives those who say they follow him:

1. Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30.) That’s complete and total love, not just lip service or emotionalism.

2. Jesus calls us to love each other, our neighbors, with the same zeal with which we love God – complete and total love (Mark 12:31.) And all people are our neighbors.

3. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves take up our cross and follow him. (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23.) We are to be “other-centered,” not focused on Self.

4. Jesus calls on us to do the will of the Father – His God and our God, the Creator of all that is (Matt. 12:50; John 5:30.) Mere words and vain professions are NOT enough to ensure eternity with God (Matt. 7:21.)

5. Jesus calls on us to forgive others, and makes this duty a condition of being forgiven by God (Matt. 6:15-16.)

6. Jesus tells us we must repent of our sins. “Repent,” he says, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17.) Repent means to feel sorry about our sins, and work to stop sinning.

7. Jesus calls on us to “go the second mile” (Matthew 5:38–42) which is not a challenge to be lukewarm or partially committed to serving others.

8. Jesus says we must 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.

9. Jesus tells us to be a “light to the world” and that we must let our Good Works “shine” so that others may see God’s righteousness manifest in us (Matt. 5:14-16.)

10. Jesus calls on us to choose the “narrow gate” that leads to God and salvation, rather than the “wide gate” that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14.) The popular way, the easy way of “faith alone” and the way that requires the least work isn’t the way Jesus calls us to approach God.

11. Jesus calls us to “do to others that which you would have done unto you” (Matt 7:12.) This “Golden Rule” has been ignored, demeaned and ridiculed by modern Christendom, but it’s at the core of Jesus’ preaching.

12. Jesus calls on us to follow him (Matt. 4:19.) Jesus sets for us a perfect example of how to live our lives (John 13:15.) We have the ability to serve God through Jesus’ moral commands (Matt. 5:48) strengthened always through God’s spirit and Jesus’ holy example.

Let us take up the challenge Jesus puts before us!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

We are Saved by the Example of Jesus! #JesusFollowers


Jesus' idea of salvation centers in his idea of God. His most characteristic description of God is as the bountiful Giver. With a liberal hand God pours out His blessings upon all people.

His love is large and generous. He is ready and eager to bestow His gifts. This impulse to give and to bless springs from God's boundless, universal love.

Jesus' favorite expression for this aspect of God's character is the term “Father.” As the Father, He loves and blesses all people - even His disobedient and sinful children. He yearns for the lost son and waits and watches for his return; He continues to love those who are indifferent, or even hostile, to His will, and sends His Son to seek and to save them.

Salvation means a life corresponding to this character of God. Jesus expressed it by the phrase "becoming sons of the Father" (Matt. 5:45.) Sonship in the Jewish mode of thought denotes moral kinship and likeness.

Jesus presented a view of God designed to move the heart to penitence for sin and to gratitude and obedience. He set the highest value on small deeds, if done from love or compassion.

Jesus illustrates in detail the elements which constitute this true righteousness or salvation. They are: humility, meekness, aspiration after goodness, mercifulness, purity, and peacemaking. These qualities constitute that real righteousness which is the passport into the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 5:3-9, 20.)

The man who fulfilled Jesus' law of neighbor love was he, social outcast though he was, who ministered to the poor sufferer at the roadside (Luke 10:36, 37.)

The first and great commandment, which summarizes the whole import of the law and the prophets, is the law of love. In comparison with the requirements of this law, all sacrifices and other religious ceremonies are of little consequence.

Love is the law because it is the principle of God's own moral perfection. God’s requirements are grounded in His nature.

The life of love is the Godlike life, the life of sonship; it makes us members of the Kingdom of Heaven; it IS salvation.

This teaching of Jesus does not minimize the requirements of holiness. If the statement of it appears to do so, this is due to the fact that Jesus does not separate righteousness from love, as later thought has done. To him these are never contrasting and rival terms.

What, then, must a person do in order to be saved? They must repent of sins and forsake them. The first word in Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom was, "Repent" (Mk. 1:15). But not only must we repent; we must turn (Mt. 18:3) — turn away from the old life, and in humility and self-surrender take up the life of obedience to God. Our Master’s descriptions of the conditions of salvation are not abstract and formal, but concrete and realistic.

It lay within the power of the erring son to forsake his evil life and escape his sinfulness by returning to his Father with a penitent and obedient heart.

When one recalls the complicated theological discussions of Salvation, the teaching of Jesus on the subject does seem, in comparison, very simple.

That’s because popular theological terminology for the subject is derived more from the language of others than from Jesus himself. Jesus did not analyze the process of attaining salvation, nor define its various steps and stages. He simply pictured the Father's house as standing open, and the Father's heart as ready and waiting to receive the wandering, lost son.

Jesus calls sinners to repent. He demands moral purity, humility, charitableness, and kindred virtues, and does not hesitate to require "good works" in one who wishes to glorify the Father in Heaven (Matt. 5:16.) In one place he declares that only one who does the will of God can enter His Kingdom, and elsewhere he prescribes the law of service as the law of that Kingdom.

When we further observe that he conceives his own mission as a mission to serve humanity, we realize one of his saving works was to induce us, by example and influence, to live the Godlike life of self-giving, in which our true greatness and glory are found.

Jesus saw his teaching and example as saving in their effect upon us. He sought by these to strengthen in us the desires and efforts for a better life - the life of sonship to God.

The life of Jesus, with its various expressions of itself in word and act, was a powerful saving agency in his time, and still remains so. The teaching of Jesus gives us no warrant to speak flippantly, as is commonly done, of his "mere" example.

Theology rarely takes time to mention the saving power of the personal influence of Jesus.

But let us not minimize by silence or by qualifying words what Jesus placed in the very forefront of his message to humanity: the declaration that the door of God's Kingdom stood open before them that they might enter then and there if they would, and that he had come to show them the way.

Jesus says: I am the world's light; by me you can know the Father, God's Kingdom is in your midst - by such words as these Jesus announced a present salvation, available at this moment, and himself as the guide to its realization.

Adapted from “The Christian Doctrine of Salvation” (1917) by George Barker Stevens