Sunday, August 13, 2017
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Sunday, June 11, 2017
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
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
Sunday, May 28, 2017
Would you willingly turn down the chance to be part of something wonderful? Would you give up the opportunity to meet and dine with a famous celebrity, an artist, or some other major world figure? How would that person feel if you declined such an invitation? How would YOU feel if you invited someone to dine and they make a lame excuse for not showing up?
That's the set-up to Jesus' “Parable of the Great Banquet.” Jesus here tells the story (recorded in Luke 14:15-24) of a man who gave “a great banquet, and invited many.” When the banquet was ready, he sent servants out to collect the invited guests. But the guests all gave rather lame excuses why they couldn't come:
One said: “I've bought a field, and I must go out and see it.” Another said he had just bought oxen, “and I must go look at them.” Yet another said he had just married a wife. Lame excuses, for sure.
So the servant came back and told his master what had happened. Then, as the Book of Luke tells it:
“The master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And [later] the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, so my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited shall taste my banquet.”
Are we making excuses for not attending a banquet, too?
When Jesus calls us to join with him in building a Kingdom of Heaven, and challenges us to become perfect and merciful, as God Himself is perfect and merciful, are we accepting that message? Or are we making excuses for why we cannot do such a thing?
Some religious teachers have said that the invited guests who rejected the man giving the banquet (be it God Himself, with Jesus, God's chosen one, acting as his servant here) were the Jewish people of the time. And while many of the Jews reject Jesus – as Jesus himself testified – all did not. So it's an imperfect interpretation.
Of course, the Jewish religious leaders of that era did reject Jesus and his message, and that mirrors what Jesus said repeatedly, especially during his ministry's final weeks, as he came to know they would put him to death.
But the Gospel stories (and the early part of the Book of Acts) portray the people in Judea rushing to Jesus, swarming to hear his teachings, and eagerly clinging to his words.
Are the religious elites today – those who build little kingdoms to honor themselves, rather than God's Kingdom – rejecting the banquet of Jesus' teachings? It could be, and that may be a more honest interpretation of this Parable than hanging it on “the Jews” - then or now.
In Jesus' parable, OTHERS are being sought in place of “those invited.” The religious elites of his day – the same ones who walked coldly by as the man lay injured on the side of the road – couldn't be bothered with Jesus' teachings. It took an outsider, a Good Samaritan, to stop and help the injured man.
Jesus also spoke to a woman drawing water from a well in Samaria, another despised outsider. And Jesus sat and ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and other renegades who needed to hear his teachings. This angered the religious elites who didn't think those people were worthy.
At its core, however, the Parable's central message is that of helping the poor, the outsider, the destitute, instead of the rich and the well connected. That, also is a theme that runs clearly throughout the ministry of Jesus, and his teachings proclaimed it loudly.
Indeed, the Parable is preceded by a story of a wedding feast, in which he warns against taking the best seats, noting that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:15)
And this Banquet Parable is followed by another in which the Costs of Discipleship must be counted, and those who make excuses, or are unwilling to sacrifice “all” for the Kingdom aren't worthy of it. (Luke 14:25-33)
Jesus says the man throwing the banquet in the Parable seeks to totally fill his house. If this “man” is a stand-in for Jesus himself, acting for God, our Creator, it becomes a powerful message that God wishes all of us to crowd into the Kingdom Jesus says must be first built here on earth, “as it is in Heaven” regardless of whomever else is refusing to attend.
Let us start crowding in to this banquet, and invite all others to partake of it!
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Only those who gain knowledge of the teachings of Jesus and follow him in humility can truly become whole, perfect and complete in Godliness.
Jesus was the perfect example through which we can know and see how God wishes us to act, to live, to relate to others,and even to die.
It is in this context that we can begin to understand the otherwise "difficult" saying of Jesus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6.) The rarely-quoted next verse reads: "If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him."
Seeing and learning from this perfect example of Godly action without acting upon what we've seen and learned would be pointless, and useless, leading only to a dead faith (James 2:20; 26.) We cannot hide our Light, or keep our Good Works to ourselves, but instead, Jesus calls us to spread goodness and light to others (Matt. 5:16.) It is only by action that we spread God's Kingdom upon the face of the earth.
Jesus challenges us to be better than we are, not remain exactly as we were before we met him. The act of following him is meant to transform us; we are to be BORN AGAIN in service and obedience to God, with the example of God's chosen exemplar always before our eyes (John 3:3.)
Jesus didn't ever claim to be God. But he did claim to be Godly, and he was in fact perfectly in tune with God's will. He says of his Father, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:29.)
From his example, we need not look through a "dark glass" seeking vainly for what God wills for our lives. Jesus lays it out clearly, and says we CAN achieve it, and must attempt to do so. And we need not do it alone.
God's servant Jesus teaches that we can rely on God's forgiveness when we falter on this journey, and must as a consequence forgive others who may offend us - in Godly imitation of both God and God's servant, Jesus (Matt. 6:14-15.)
The Good and Beneficial Message proclaimed by Jesus wasn't to simply have mere belief in his existence, but was a call to ACTIVELY serve God, to follow Jesus, and to love others just as we love ourselves (Mark 12:29-31.) His Gospel calls us to serve and act, not sit and contemplate, nor to simply admire Jesus nor even to worship him.
To be Good and Beneficial, the message of Jesus must spread goodness to others, and be beneficial to others. To turn a deaf ear to God's instruction through Jesus is detestable to God (John 9:31; Prov. 28:9.)
When we realize the wonderful gifts God has given all people from birth - but we have not used to benefit others until we knew Jesus - we should feel a great sorrow of realization, followed immediately by great joy that we now know the goal for which we were born, and the Good Works for which God has equipped us!
Jesus is a "Door" and a "Gate" by which we may walk through and glimpse the potential life for which God has equipped us - and has promised to continue to equip us. Let us have the courage to walk through this narrow passageway and enter into spiritually complete and morally useful lives together!
Sunday, May 14, 2017
Does our faith serve others, or just ourselves? Does it seek our own comfort and security, or are we willing to sacrifice ALL for the sake of our Master and our Master's God?
What if everyone put others first in all things? What if all of us, all the time, thought of others' needs and put ourselves in second place?
If all this doesn't sound familiar to you, it should, because this thinking lies at the core of the teaching of Jesus.
If Jesus is the one whom God chose to be our teacher of Righteousness and our perfect example to follow, what he says actually matters.
Jesus taught that we must seek not to be first, or the Greatest among others, but instead to be the last, putting others first.
Jesus told a parable saying that we must not seek to give the most important and most visible public seats to alleged VIPs, but instead, we ought to let others, including the poor and "unimportant" sit in the best places. God doesn't make distinctions among people, and neither should we.
When some of his disciples asked to be given honors, he said that the first would be last and the last would be made first.
Jesus made it clear, speaking to the disciples, "whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave." Jesus says he made his life a ransom for many, giving all to others. We, he said, must do the same.
Jesus says we must love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and treat others as we wish to be treated.
We ought to head Jesus' teachings, then, and seek to treat everyone equally, putting others first, and our desires second.
It's clear that Jesus calls us all to a life of action and Good Works. 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.
God wishes us to be holy, just as God is holy, merciful, just as God is merciful, and righteous, just as God is righteous.
Jesus says he did all that God commanded him to do, and calls us to always seek to do the same.
He didn't think it demeaning to serve the disciples by washing their feet. Serving each other is the pattern our exemplar, Jesus, gave us to follow. It's not too hard for us, it's not just a model to admire, and he gave us this example not to make us feel insignificant and unworthy, but to prove the greatness to which we all may aspire.
By taking up the challenge of seeking to emulate Jesus in all things, we compliment God, Who gave us this challenging Good News, and Who made us capable of accepting it and doing as He wishes us to do.
God wishes us to put others first, and his chosen son, Jesus, is the proof that we can seek to do it. Let's get busy, then, serving and loving our neighbors!
Sunday, May 7, 2017
A minister on the radio said this week that we humans are all "condemned criminals" in need of "radical surgery." Holy mixed metaphors, Batman! Not only was that metaphor a language crime, it was theologically criminal, as well!
Fortunately for us, he is wrong. In fact, Jesus teaches just the opposite. Jesus, just like the Hebrew prophets before him, consistently taught that we are all free to choose either to do right or do evil, and that we would be responsible for those choices when we stand before God.
Let us quickly dispense with the idea that we are all condemned criminals. The only ones who say this have no idea of the vast mercy of our Heavenly Father, or are deliberately hiding this wonderful fact.
Of course, what the pastor is really trying to imply is that we were born under an imaginary curse, making us unable to do any good, and that we are therefore born already condemned in the sight of God.
This is scripturally and logically nonsense.
That God made us free to choose and liable for our choices is one of the best attested facts of scripture - both the Hebrew scriptures and the words of our Master, Jesus, whom God chose to be our example and teacher in all things.
To claim that we are so damaged that we can do no good; that we cannot follow Jesus and do as he calls us to do, is to make excuses for our failure to obey. Not to mention, it makes Jesus into an unreasonable master, for commanding what cannot be done by us, and that would mean that God knows we cannot do it, but had Jesus tell us to do these impossible tasks anyway.
If God did this, He would be the author of our sins, and an unfair judge. He would be responsible for our actions and not us if we were unable by are very nature to obey what He and his chosen son have laid out before us. It would also mean that Jesus was a liar, and his teachings a mockery, too.
Without freedom of Will and freedom to act there can be no judgement by God. But the good news is that we were created with the ability to choose which makes our choices have meaning and good really can mean good and not just a forced choice made by a domineering God.
The Hebrew Bible is filled with examples of God giving us a free will and the freedom to choose. The story of Adam and Eve is all about our Free Will and ability to choose, and the Jewish people have always understood it that way.
Adam's poor choice didn't damage his children nor his descendants ability to choose right from wrong. God is portrayed as even portrayed as showing Adam"s own son, Cain, that he had the free choice to do right or to do wrong and to take the consequences of either choice.
King David is shown in scripture as sinning and doing evil deeds, but he repented, and God forgave him. He says in the Psalms that he stood after his repentance before God with clean hands and with righteous actions.
Isaiah teaches that we are to wash ourselves and make ourselves clean. If we are totally unable to do good, then what could this possibly mean?
Therefore it abundantly clear that the Hebrew scriptures teach nothing else except that we have the ability to act and to do good and fact are called by God to do exactly that.
Jesus, also, teaches us that God wishes us to have willing hearts and to follow the path of righteousness willingly. We are, like King David, able to repent of our past mistakes, and to stop doing them, as in the story of the woman caught in adultery demonstrates. Jesus said, "Go, and sin no more." No radical surgery was required, simply a determination to repent to do good, instead.
The kingdom of God is built through our deliberate righteous actions are good works done in accordance with the teachings of our Master, Jesus.
The minister's statement about "radical surgery" is another theological falsehood. While our wills may have been damaged by our past actions, that can no way mean that we have no ability to turn our lives around by reaching out to God and repenting. Jesus teaches that all may repent, and indeed must repent, of past mistakes that are a falling short of the high standards God wishes for all of us.
The Gospel that Jesus preached is a challenge to reach our full potential - how God wishes us to live our lives. The Gospel itself is a challenge. The fact that many do not know that it is a challenge, and are unaware that Jesus' Gospel is fully contained in his words, doesn't make them criminals sentenced to death eternally, it makes them imperfect, because they are not following God's perfect path of righteousness, have not taught them this.
Those who are living imperfect lives don't need radical surgery as much as they need a radical reassessment of their lives. And they should be informed at that there is a better way: to live their lives in accordance with God's will.
And those who are living an easy faith without challenge, who believe that good works are impossible (or something that we need not even concern ourselves with) miss the point of Jesus' teachings. And actually tend to warp them beyond all recognition.
These ministers, and their flocks, perhaps need a radical new faith, based on the challenging, joyful teachings of our Master, Jesus, who says emphatically that we are capable of doing all that he asks us to do and that we may do all that he has done. THAT is the True Gospel message.
Knowing that Jesus pleased God in every way, and said we may do the same, shows that God and the one He chose as our example have far higher confidence in us human beings then the ministers do.
Sunday, April 30, 2017
Jesus spoke frequently of God's mercy, forgiveness and our need for repentance. No story in the Hebrew Scriptures better illustrates this than the story of Jonah.
Jonah the Prophet was sent by God to Nineveh, to call on them to forsake their evil ways and repent. Jonah (after famously fleeing and being brought back on track by a whale) does as he is commanded and Nineveh actually repents, turning to God in true and genuine repentance, seeking forgiveness for their sins.
In this parable of God's mercy, Jonah, now a successful prophet, is furious with God, because he believes he was made to look like a chump for calling down God's wrath. He complains to God that, "I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" and that he KNEW that God would be merciful to them if they repented from their sins (Jonah 4:1.) And Jonah was correct.
The story of Jonah, like the ministry of Jesus, illustrates God's unlimited mercy and forgiveness. Both are available to us when we repent of our sins and choose to follow God's path of Righteousness instead.
Jesus refers to Nineveh and their repentance during his ministry, saying, "The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment and condemn the people living today, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah. But look, something greater than Jonah is here!" (Luke 11:30.)
The men of Nineveh were held up by Jesus as examples for those in Judea who were acting in unrighteous ways.
God asks Jonah after his outburst, "Is it right for you to be angry?" (4:4) And it's a good question, and one that's still relevant. Because like Jonah, some modern Christian leaders are very angry with God for being too generous with His mercy and forgiveness.
And yet, God has mercy on those whom HE chooses to have mercy. James writes, "Mercy triumphs over judgment." (James 2:13)
The truth is, God is not bound by OUR ideas of Justice and Condemnation. In this sense, God's ways are surely not OUR ways.
While we may decide that some people do not deserve God's mercy, and must first "pay a price" for falling short of His high standards, God does not condemn based on our whims or theories about who is "in" and who is "out" of his loving embrace, either now or eternally.
And in the same way, one minor flaw in our character, one falling short of God's perfect way does not condemn us to eternal separation from God, as some today would imagine it. Jesus says we are forgiven when we repent and turn back to God, just as all the Hebrew Prophets before him promised.
"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7) Isaiah told the children of Israel to turn back to God, against Whom they had deeply and greatly revolted (Isaiah 31:6.)
The wisdom of God is that we may forsake our sins and repent, then we will find God's mercy waiting for us (Prov. 28:13.) And if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9.)
What does God require of us? Mercy. Jesus says those who seek mercy shall have it (Matt. 5:7) and in turn we are called to "Be merciful" just as our Father in Heaven is merciful. And as we are forgiven and receive mercy, we are called upon to forgive others and have mercy upon others (Luke 6:36-37.)
But wait - can God just show mercy to us - without retribution or payment? Just like that? Yes.
God isn't the elected leader of a government we created, nor is He bound by rules we think He must follow. No one should say, "God cannot show mercy because He is bound be laws to be unmerciful." or, "We must pay a price before we get mercy from God." No, God's mercy transcends His judgment, when we repent with a pure heart and genuineness. All the Hebrew Scriptures and our Master, Jesus, testify clearly to the wonderful Truth that God's mercy is unlimited.
God requires nothing but our genuine repentance to "earn" his mercy. "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," God tells Moses. "And I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." (Ex. 33:19)
The Hebrew Bible, consistent with the teachings of Jesus, tells us we may ALL return to God when we forsake evil and turn back to God's holy path of Righteous living.
Hosea and Jesus both inform us that God requires "mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:6; Matt. 9:13; Matt. 12:7) The Prophet Micah says we are to "love Mercy" (6:6)
We are blessed to know a God Who does not curse us with other's sins, and Who freely grants mercy to the repentant!
King David writes: "When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long." But, "I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD GOD,' and You forgave the iniquity of my sin." (Psalm 32.)
Having received the mercy of God, we are called by our Master, Jesus to show mercy to others.
We show in our service to others - the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the homeless, the destitute and the suffering - that we understand what God's mercy means to us. And because we have the example of this man, Jesus, who achieved God's Standard of excellence, we know we are capable of doing what God asks of us.
Sunday, April 23, 2017
It is in active service to God's fellow creations that we truly demonstrate that we are God's children and that we truly love the one Who created us.
Jesus - the one God chose to be our perfect example - calls on us to do all that is within our power to perform Good Works, relying on our Original, Natural, God-given gifts, while seeking greater strength and wisdom from God, Who gives to us abundantly when we need spiritual renewal.
The life that Jesus calls on us to pursue is a life of works, action, radical love and service to others.
Jesus wants us to make God's Kingdom in Heaven a reality here on earth, right now and in this time.
We are not called upon to wait for others to do it, nor wait for God to make it happen on our behalf.
Good Works are the way in which we grow God's Kingdom. 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.
"Trust in Yahweh and do good," writes the Pslamist (37:3) Let us do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly, honoring our God, urges Micah (6:8.)
What God calls us to do, through the teachings and example of the one He chose to show us, Jesus, is not impossible for us.
God has made us capable of governing ourselves, and we have the knowledge of what is good, just and pure, and what should be avoided, thanks to the wisdom of the Prophets and the teachings of our Master, Jesus, who shows us by his example that all of us are able to obey God.
We can love and serve others perfectly because Jesus set the pattern for us to follow and called us to do all that he did.
But we cannot deceive ourselves. We cannot be all God wishes us to be simply by proclaiming ourselves "righteous," or merely because we believe in God and in the one He chose for us.
Only those who actively DO what is righteous has a claim to call themselves Righteous, and even so, we are not to brag of our righteousness. But we are still called to act out our good acts in front of others, to be a light to them, so that they may join us in doing good.
And when we fall short of the high standards God sets for us - and like children, we cannot run before we walk - God promises that He forgives us when we repent and renew our determination to seek out Godliness and continue to walk the path of Righteousness.
Only those who obey his teachings are building firm foundations upon the Rock of those teachings.
We honor Jesus with our actions, if we do as he asks of us. Then we are truly children and servants of God, and not just admirers and flatterers of God's teacher.
So, if we love Jesus, we'll seek to follow all that he did and said during his ministry. His teachings live on forever, and never pass away. Knowing this, let us go into the world as true and faithful servants of our Creator by following the words of His spokesman, our Master, Jesus.
Sunday, April 16, 2017
Happy Easter! Today is the day on which we celebrate the return of Jesus to God after a mission of perfect obedience. We thank God for Jesus' example and teachings, which lead us to salvation!
He made known the love God has for us, proclaimed the riches of divine grace, and declared the mercy of God to a guilty world; but at the same time he insisted that without repentance there can be no salvation. (Luke 13:3-5). God sent him out to bless humanity by turning them from their iniquities.
He declared that a leading object of his mission was to call sinners to repentance (Mark 2:17.) To deny the efficacy of repentance would be to render the mission of Jesus useless.
In his Sermon on the Mount, he reflects the character of a practical preacher.
He taught that to do the will of God, and seek to be like Him, is the only way to gain admittance into his kingdom, that the condition of forgiveness is our forgiving others, and that the man who hears his sayings and does them builds on a good foundation. (See Matt. 5, 6 & 7)
He taught that men will be accepted or rejected according to the use they make of the talents entrusted to their care; that when brought to judgment, they will be received to glory, or doomed to punishment, according to their works (Chapter 25).
Throughout his ministry he taught men to expect salvation, and every blessing, on the ground of the love, mercy and favor of God, solely on the terms of repentance and obedience to the Gospel.
He represented God as accepting penitent sinners, on the ground of his free mercy, just as a compassionate father would his offending child when he saw him turn from his folly. (Luke 15:11-32)
The Gospel is undoubtedly a system of divine mercy and grace, but in this system, conditions are certainly understood. The conditions are repentance, faith, and obedience. Without a compliance with these conditions, sinners cannot be saved.
We have redemption in Jesus as we have it in his Gospel: he came and revealed it, he lost his life in making it known, he is appointed by the Father to dispense it, and we enjoy it so long as we conform to his teaching and example.
So, from now on, we should not live just for ourselves, only gratifying our passions and desires, but for him, in obedience to his Gospel, and in the imitation of his example – especially of that generous love which he manifested in laying down his life for the good of men. (John 15:13)
Throughout his life, he resigned himself to do the will of his Father. (Luke 22:42) Had his feelings of pain and sorrow been less exquisite, his piety, his virtue, his patience had been less perfect, had he not felt so deeply, he would have been less suited to be our example in bearing suffering.
Jesus showed no cowardice in his suffering. Throughout, with firmness, he resigned himself to the will of his Father. (Luke 22:42) Had his feelings of pain and sorrow been less exquisite, his piety, his virtue, his patience had been less perfect, had he not felt so deeply, he would have been less suited to be our example in bearing suffering.
Jesus can be an example to us only so far as he was like us in nature, state and circumstances, or as we are capable of becoming like him. Had he never suffered he could not have been an example to us in suffering. Had he not died, he could not have been an example to us in dying.
Had he not perfectly obeyed he could not have been an example of perfect obedience. But now by his death, his character is perfected, his qualifications are completed, his testimony is finished, his obedience is tried and, found perfect, he received a glorious reward, and we have a suitable and perfect example of every excellence attainable by us.
(Adapted from the writings of Rev. Noah Worcester, 1805)
Sunday, April 9, 2017
Just a few verses into the Hebrew Bible, in the book of Genesis, there is a well-known story that has valuable lessons that, if better known, could change the way we understand God, our human abilities, and our responsibilities as God’s children.
The story of Cain and Abel – well known as an allegorical tale of brotherly strife – begins with both brothers offering up a sacrifice to God. Abel offers up animals on an altar, while Cain offers fruits and vegetables. However…
"[Yahweh] 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)The story goes on to tell how the angry, confused Cain sought out and murdered his brother Abel. God then finds Cain in hiding, and asks him where his brother was. Cain answered with that well-known line (as if he was innocent of the crime) "Am I my brother's keeper?" God then punishes Cain by marking him for all eternity.
So, what lessons does this story teach us, today, about human beings, and our abilities?
First, God laid out two paths of action to Cain, equally offering acceptance (to be “Lifted” in the Hebrew, meaning exalted) if he had chosen to do what was right.
God also told Cain he had the ability to RULE OVER or “master” sin, if he chose to do it.
God’s offer of acceptance to Cain, and the choice he was given, prove that he had the ability to do what is right – and so do we.
But this simple lesson has been invisible to many religious teachers, who have long denied that we as human beings have the ability to choose to do what is right.
Some – living hundreds of years after Jesus' ministry – taught that Cain’s father, Adam (the first human being, along with Eve, in the book of Genesis) sinned against God. This, they say, caused all of his descendants, including us, to be UNABLE TO AVOID SINNING.
They also taught that this inability was passed on to us through our ancestors when they had sex. This is the teaching of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and all modern Protestant and Catholic churches.
If this is true, then we are powerless to avoid sin – and powerless to do what God commands us to do.
But the actual words of this story blow apart these man-made theories.
Cain, the very child of Adam in this story, had the ability to NOT kill Abel, had he chosen that option. He was assured by God that he could CHOOSE to not sin, and in fact, said he MUST do so, to avoid punishment.
This story teaches us volumes about God’s nature, as well as human nature. God created us to obey His moral commandments. And because God is our Creator, He knows of what we are capable, and calls us to seek out His holiness and obey Him.
Rather than telling his disciples that we could do nothing EXCEPT sin, Jesus – the one whom God chose as our example and teacher and anointed as His spokesman – taught them, and through them, us, that we are to be "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48)
And the one who said he did all things that pleased God also said that we must follow him, doing all that he had done. (John 13:15; 14:12)
In saying this, Jesus echoed all the Hebrew prophets who had come before him - because he did not teach anything new about our ability to obey God that was not already known.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, we are assured that God's commandments are, "not too hard for you," and "The word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, SO THAT YOU CAN DO IT." (Deut. 30:11, 14) Isaiah writes, "Wash yourselves, make yourself clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do well." (1:16)
The Psalmist writes: "Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges the earth." (Psalms 58:11)
“He has shown you, O man, what is good," writes Micah (6:8)
We are called upon to "Hate evil, and love good" says Amos (5:15)
"Choose this day whom you will serve," says Joshua (24:15)
"If you choose, you can keep the commandments; and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. Set before you are fire and water; to whatever you choose, stretch out your hand. Before everyone are life and death, whichever they choose will be given them." (Sirach 15:15-17)
Therefore, while sin may be waiting by the door for us, seeking to master us, we may indeed defeat – and master – sinful temptations. We HAVE THAT ABILITY, given to us by our Creator!
If we have damaged this ability because of our past behavior, God will grant us greater moral strength when we ask (Psalm 138:3; Prov. 2:6; James 1:5)
Through the teachings of our Master, Jesus, we know that God is like a parent, Who allows His children to make mistakes, repent, and turn back to doing what is right and good.
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.
Sunday, April 2, 2017
God's infinite forgiveness is revealed in the life and teachings of Jesus, whom we are called to emulate.
God's love is truly infinite. It has always existed.
God’s 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)
God, is said to be, “merciful and gracious, long-suffering – forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin." (Exodus 34:6-7)
King David constantly prayed for the pardon of sin, for God's "mercy's sake," (Psalms 44:26) and found forgiveness for his sins when he repented, living thereafter with "clean hands" before God (2 Samuel 22:21.)
In the story of Jonah, that God is portrayed as being forgiving and merciful to Nineveh when they repented from their sins (Jonah 4:1.)
The forgiveness of God is powerful and strong because the challenge God gives us through his chosen son, Jesus is also powerful and strong.
We are called by Jesus to perform acts of Righteousness, to treat others like we would wish to be treated, to "go the extra mile" and not return evil for evil.
We must seek always to love God completely and obey God's commandments, we must not be hypocrites in doing so, we must not pray just to be seen by others, and should not seek after earthly riches, but instead seek after Heavenly riches.
That is the Good News Jesus preached. Nothing more, nothing less. It is at the core of his teachings.
"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:5-12)
When the Scribes told Jesus that only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7) Jesus corrected them, and by example, taught that all of us should forgive others’ sins and trespasses.
In the parable of the Unforgiving Servant, the King (God) calls out the wicked servant, saying, “I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Matt. 18:32-33.)
Jesus calls us to be merciful to others, just as God is merciful (Luke 6:36)
When Peter asks how many times we must forgive others, Jesus replies, “Seventy times seven” times (Matt. 18-21-22.) In other words, continually and without end.
These are commands and duties we are called to perform in our lives. When we falter, and fail to live up to these Godly deals, we seek forgiveness from God, and always obtain it.
When others around us stumble and hurt us, and fail to live up to God's high standards, we must forgive them, as a condition of our being forgiven by God when WE fall short of the duties we've taken on by agreeing to follow his anointed one, Jesus. (Mark 11:25, Matt. 6:14-15)
By demonstrating, by his own example, the forgiveness God requires, and by exhibiting in his own conduct the spirit of benevolence, meekness, and self-denial, Jesus calls on us to learn from him, to take up the cross and follow his steps.
If Jesus can, in his dying breath, forgive those who murdered him (Luke 23:34) we can forgive those who offend us with their gossip.
Our God, revealed to us by Jesus, is a God of high expectations, and believes that we are able to meet and exceed them (John 14:12.) Let us forgive others in the same spirit of forgiveness offered to us by our Eternal Father.
Sunday, March 26, 2017
Does God wish us to live lives of disobedience and lawlessness, proclaiming His Name, Yahweh, with our lips, but our hearts remaining far from Him?
Will God reward with eternal life those who disobey and ignore His moral statutes and the one He sent to proclaim and live them as our example, Jesus?
If the Hebrew Scriptures and teachings of Jesus are right, it's easy to believe that God wishes us to not only pledge, but actually DO the Good Works Jesus said God wants us to perform every minute of every day upon this earth.
Jesus tells us that God doesn't want our empty words - vain cries of God's name, or the name of his chosen one, Jesus.
God does NOT want a human or animal sacrifice that "stands in for" and excuses our past and future failings.
God seeks only a humble spirit and a repentant heart (Psalm 51:17.)
He wants our joyful, enthusiastic love and this same love given to others. This love leads DIRECTLY to God's Kingdom here and now upon the earth, and to our eternal salvation.
Jesus teaches it is the person who DOES the will of the Father who is worthy of the Kingdom to which we are called to build, and to eternal life (Matt. 7:21-23).
And Jesus told us that only the one who does righteousness is righteous. Without the act of DOING, we are not entitled to call ourselves "righteous."
Simply professing with our lips the belief that Jesus actually lived and died, then went back to God, is a cold and sterile faith - a faith of bare facts and mere words, perhaps genuinely felt ones, and perhaps ones spoken with great emotion - but empty words, nonetheless.
Honest Jesus Followers, therefore, will seek to walk just as he walked.
We will seek other's needs above our own.
We will seek heavenly treasure above earthly treasure.
We will actively seek to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, house the homeless, and care for widows, orphans and others needing our love.
We will pray for our enemies, and return love for their hatred.
We will actively do Good Works as an example to others, but humbly, not just to receive praise from them.
In short, we will joyfully take his yoke of obedience upon us daily.
This is the path of the Narrow Gate, and not the wide path of belief divorced from action (Matt. 7:13-14.)
If we truly believe Jesus' actions and teachings represent the perfect way God wishes US to live, how can we do anything other than to model every day of our lives around his?