Sunday, December 10, 2017

We Are Given Moral Freedom By God #JesusFollowers


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Aaron Bancroft) 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Work Builds Character! #JesusFollowers


Employment is the life of every soul, from the Most High down to the least of his children. Only those who are spiritually dead, or sleeping, ask for idleness. 

Man, resting in thought or feeling, is at best a useless abstraction; he becomes truly a man only when his thoughts and feelings come forth into life, and impress themselves on outward things.

If he fails to do this, the rust of idleness eats into all his powers, till he becomes a useless cumberer of the ground; the world loses, and heaven gains nothing when this mortal puts on immortality. Such a being is dead while he lives – a moral paralytic. His capacities are as seed cast upon a rock where there is no earth.

Man, created in the image and likeness of God, resembles Him most nearly when the life influent from God which fills his soul, flows forth freely as it is given, quickening with its powers all that comes within the influence of his sphere.

There is an old proverb that tells us, "Idleness is the devil's pillow," and well may it be so esteemed, for no head ever rested long upon it, but the lips of the evil spirit were at its ear, breathing falsehood and temptation. The industrious man is seldom found guilty of a crime; for he has no time to listen to the enticings of the wicked, and he is content with the enjoyments honest effort affords.

It is the vicious idler, vexed to see the fortunes of his industrious neighbor growing while he is lounging and murmuring, who robs and murders that he may get unlawful gain. 

It is the merry, thoughtless idler who, to relieve the nothingness of his days, seeks the excitement of the wine-cup and the gaming table. It is the sensual idler, whose licentious ear is open to the voice of the tempter as often as his track crosses the pathway of youth and innocence.

Not only by reason of the external, palpable rewards which labor brings is it to be considered a blessing; but every hour of patient labor, whether with the hands, or in study, or thought, brings with it its own priceless reward, in its direct effects upon the Character. 

By it the faculties are developed, the powers strengthened, and the whole being brought into a state of order; provided we do all things for the glory of God. "But," exclaims the impatient heart, wearied with the cares of daily life, "how can all this labor for the preservation and comfort of the merely mortal body, this study of things which belong merely to the material world, subserve in any way the glory of God?"

It is by these very toils, worthless and transitory as they may seem, that the Character is built up for eternity; and so to build up Character is the whole end for which the things of time were created. 

One who thinks wisely can never live a life of idleness, and where there is excessive indolence of the body there is never healthy action of the mind. A life of use is a life of holiness; and a life of idleness is a life of sin. He who performs no social use, who makes no human being happier or better, is leading a life of utter selfishness; is walking in a way that ends in spiritual death.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats, the King condemns those on the left hand, not because they have done that which was wrong, but because they have omitted doing that which was right.

No matter how small the duty entrusted to our performance, by performing it to the best of our abilities we are fitting ourselves to be rulers over many things –  to hear the blessed proclamation, "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."

(Excerpted from “The Elements of Character,” by Mary Greene Chandler Ware, 1854)

Sunday, November 26, 2017

In Jesus, We Find The Joy Of God! #JesusFollowers


Every holy principle rejoices in a connection with spotless purity. Every grateful sentiment is stirred by recollecting the labors of redeeming love; every generous affection is roused by the mildness of his yoke; and every hope is animated by the prospect of that life and immortality which Jesus has brought to light.

This joy, it is evident, can only be tasted by the consistent, faithful, practical believer. The friends of Jesus will possess the joys of Jesus; but the friends of Jesus are those who do his commandments.

This is his own account of the matter, and therefore, when we lay this down as a rule, we are sure that we are right, for we are only repeating what he, himself has said.

We are called to study the attributes of God; the relations in which He stands towards us, and those duties which, in consequence, we owe to Him. We are to make ourselves acquainted with the divine authority, the pure doctrines, the holy precepts, and the perfect character of the blessed Jesus. This is the knowledge which will make us wise unto salvation.

Knowledge without virtue will do us no good. In the divine administration, which is wisdom and benevolence in action, we behold means and ends invariably suited to each other. Holiness is the great mean of real and lasting happiness.

If to grow in the likeness of our divine Master is the only preparation for the happiness he has promised, an unwearied attention to his precepts and example is strongly impressed upon us. 

We must be active, vigilant, and persevering. Prejudices must be eradicated, passions must be governed, appetites and inclinations to evil resolutely restrained.

The heart and the life must be kept with all diligence, if the prize of our high calling is to be made sure.

Jesus shows us that God is love, the original spring of happiness, and that the grand end he proposes, in the production of man, is the communication and extension of happiness. He shows us that no situation of human life can warrant a fretful and despondent attitude; but that, in. all cases, we may, and, in justice to our great benefactor, ought to encourage a cheerful, and even a joyful attitude.

Let us look for strength where alone it is to be found. Seek for salvation only in that way which the Gospel prescribes. Go directly to the narrow gate. Depend upon it that in no other way redemption can be found. Consult your reason. Make a worthy and noble choice. Aim high. Ambition here is a virtue.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Edmund Butcher, 1805)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Jesus VS. Christian Theology. #JesusFollowers


One cannot help wondering what the Christian world would be like today if the Church had kept to the policy and program of Jesus. What if the Church in her ideals and efforts had remained predominantly religious and ethical, instead of becoming, as she did, predominantly doctrinal and speculative?

It is not easy, indeed, to envision it. We are so accustomed to associate the great doctrinal disputes of past ages with the history and activity of the Church, that they almost seem an essential part of her life. But are they really?

As we look back upon the extinct and, as it now often seems, pretty much meaningless controversies of the past, it is not easy to resist the feeling that the Christian Church might have done a greater work and might now present to the world a better representation of the Spirit of Christ if she had observed the terms of his commission and had not undertaken to annex to her province so many foreign territories.

The Sermon on the Mount is a new law of conduct; it assumes beliefs rather than formulates them; the theological conceptions which underlie it belong to the ethical rather than the speculative side of theology. Metaphysics is completely absent from it.

The Nicene Creed is a statement partly of historical facts and partly of dogmatic inferences; the metaphysical terms which it contains would probably have been unintelligible to the first disciples; ethics have no place in it. 

One belongs to a world of Syrian peasants, the other to a world of Greek philosophers.

The absence of ethics from one of the great ecumenical creeds of Christendom, and the metaphysical conditions of salvation prescribed in another, represent one estimate of the relative value of dogma and of character in the Christian world.

This estimate only shows how completely the gospel of Jesus became transformed into an esoteric doctrine as remote from the motives and purposes of Jesus' life-work as the unseemly strifes and alienations which it engendered were unproductive of the fruits of his Spirit in mankind. Jesus was wholly concerned with ethics, with begetting and fostering in men the Godlike life.

The word "character" summarizes the great interest and life-purpose of Jesus Christ.

The primacy of dogma in the Nicene Creed is obvious. More than forty paragraphs are devoted to the dogmas belief in which is declared to be essential to salvation; but two sections at the end are reserved for laying emphasis on a good life, so that this is not completely excluded from the definition of "the Catholic Faith."

Jesus and the apostles also spoke frequently of what men must do to be saved, but we can detect no resemblance between what they said and the propositions contained in these forty-one paragraphs.

The Sermon on the Mount is a typical description of the true righteousness which must characterize the members of the Kingdom — the righteousness which surpasses the legal formalism and ceremonial punctiliousness which the scribes and Pharisees called righteousness.

Meekness, being merciful, aspiration after goodness, purity, peacemaking, humility, patience, charity - these are the constituents of the Christian character as Jesus there portrays it. 

How obvious it is that we have here an elaboration of the prophetic conception of righteousness that’s practically synonymous with love.

Micah summarizes God's supreme requirement of us in words which sound the keynote of our Master’s teaching in this Sermon: "to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God." (Micah 6:8)

We are thus brought face to face with the contrast between the biblical conception of righteousness and that which has been most widely current in traditional theology.

The various qualities and activities of the Christian character on which Jesus lays most stress are all consistent with what we have found in his mountain Sermon.

The true righteousness which makes us children of God consists in a love like that of God Himself. 

The Christian character, then, as Jesus conceived it, is summed up in the one word "Godlikeness." 

Become the children of your Father; be like your Father in love, in purity, in readiness to serve and forgive, and you thereby become members of the Kingdom of heaven; to acquire such a character - to live such a life - IS salvation. 

But how are we to know what God's nature and requirements are so that we can understand, desire, and choose them as prescribing the law of their own life? The life and character of Jesus himself are the answer.

The more abstract demand to be like God is translated into the concrete and unmistakable requirement that the disciple should be like his Master. 

It is, indeed, the unparalleled marvel of the character of Jesus that we can transfer the qualities of that character, point by point, to God himself with a perfect sense of consistency and truth.

If Jesus seems to set before us a high and abstract law for life, he does not leave us without a clear and definite interpretation of it. If he points us to a distant and apparently unattainable goal, he proves himself to be the way to an ever-closer approximation to it.

The Way of Christ Jesus is the way to the Father.

(Adapted from the writings of Rev. George Barker Stevens)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Costly Faith #Jesus Calls Us To Follow! #JesusFollowers


"Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:27-31)

What does Jesus mean when he says, "Counting the costs?"

Too many people are willing to believe in a God that requires nothing – no work, to time, no money, no effort, and no works of love; a religion that’s made easy, that requires less effort than is required to put a meal in a microwave.

They're more than ready to go to Heaven, as long as God carries them there without any requirement that they move their feet a single step.

But the inconvenient problem for those who believe this, and wish to continue to call themselves "Christian" or followers of Christ Jesus, is that this is not the religion Jesus preached. That’s not the path he calls us to walk. It's not the life he wishes us to lead in this life. And it doesn't even lead to eternal salvation with God, our Father.

If people really put a faith in our God at the center of their lives, and believed that Jesus himself lays out this religion in his words, then they would find no work for God too hard, no self-denial too severe, and no offering of service in the name of God’s chosen Son, Jesus to be enough.

Jesus spoke about costly, righteous obedience that would cause people to hate us, and a Godly kingdom here on earth that requires us to act righteously, loving even our enemies. God would then reward us with Heaven based only on our deeds.

That’s a salvation that is not easy, lazy or cheaply obtained with our vain words and lengthy prayers (Matt. 6:7; 7:21.)

That which we obtain cheaply, we esteem lightly. A gift freely given, a gift unwrapped and unused, is a worthless gift, regardless of the cost. Teachings unused, and unapplied, are exactly the same - useless.

Jesus never said that salvation would come without cost. He never said it would require no effort, or that it cannot or must not be earned. In fact, he said just the opposite.

His parables, including this one about the costs involved in building a tower, all point to a costly faith – a faith that requires us to give all we have to serving God by loving and serving both Him and our fellow human beings.

If faith costs nothing, and salvation can be achieved without effort, what "costs" must we count?

If effort and self-sacrifice is not required of us by God, then of what "costs" does Jesus speak regarding the tower in this parable?

If the wide and easy path is the path condemned by Jesus, why do so many seek it?

Those who don't plan, or don't count the costs, or don’t believe there ARE costs in achieving eternal salvation deserve to be mocked, just as those who would build a tower without considering the costs would deserve to be mocked, says Jesus.

And those who don’t consider ALL they have to be on the line when following Jesus should reconsider calling themselves by his name. We must be willing to share all, give all, and do all in order to follow the Paths of Righteousness and, ultimately, eternal Salvation Jesus calls us to follow.

"Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." (Luke 12:48.) Does this sound like the words of someone advocating and approving an easy, lazy faith, to be rewarded by God with a cheaply obtained eternal life?

God said at Jesus' baptism, when He adopted Jesus as his anointed Son and appointed him as our Example and Savior, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him." (Matt. 17:15.) We should, then, listen to and believe Jesus’s words, both here and elsewhere, when he says we must obey God's commands and follow his own example, doing all things he has done in obedience to our Creator.

God chose this perfectly obedient human being to be our example in all things. We therefore must make every effort to humbly and honorably seek to follow Jesus in obedience to his life's pattern, which pleased God so much.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

What Do We Owe God, And Others? #JesusFollowers


What do we owe to God? What do we owe to others? Many today might answer that we owe God and others nothing. Instead, they might say, we owe it to ourselves to focus on building up our self alone.

This message is reinforced in almost every aspect of the society we live in. Advertising tells us that we owe it to ourselves to Grant our every desire, without hesitation.

We are told that we deserve every luxury and every Indulgence we can think of. It's very very easy to fall into this trap, to believe that by gratifying ourselves that we will somehow be happy.

Even some preachers teach that we owe it to ourselves to be rich - and that God endorses our quest for riches. They even say that our main goal in life is to "get saved," and save our souls for the next life. Once that's accomplished (and it's done quickly and easily, they claim - with just one prayer!) we may continue to focus on getting rich.

But as we have seen again and again, people who have lived in luxury beyond our wildest dreams have the same feelings of unhappiness, of being unfulfilled, of feeling alone and unloved.

It's almost a stereotype and a truism that money and fame does not really bring happiness. And yet some still believe it, and Chase the dream.

If we follow Jesus, however, then the question of what we owe God and what we owe others is a simple one to answer. We owe everything to God and we owe complete and total service to others in the name of Jesus, whom we serve.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he said that we are to love our God with all our hearts all our minds all our strength and all our understanding, and our neighbor as ourselves. (Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:37)

Some say this is just a simplistic and easy summary of all the laws of God. And while it is a summary, for sure, it is not simplistic, but an incredible, powerful challenge that Jesus calls us to take up daily.

Because if we owe everything to God, our creator, we will live our lives full of gratitude to him for this creation and for our lives in it. If we owe everything to others, we will serve them and love them and cherish them. We will do everything to comfort them to ensure they have what they need to survive and thrive in this world.

When we understand that our lives here are meant to build up an Earthly kingdom of God, one that reflects the spiritual Perfection of our creator, we will do all we can to alleviate suffering, comfort those in pain, and fill the needs of those who lack basic necessities. (Matt. 6:10)

This leaves little room for simply piling up riches. In fact, Jesus repeatedly calls on us to reject riches for riches' sake, saying (perhaps most famously) that it's easier for a rich man to go through the eye of needle than to enter into the Kingdom. (Mark 10:25) 

Perhaps not as famous, but just as important, is his warning that we ought to, "be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in an abundance of possessions." (Luke 12:15)

This is the selfless vision and the mission Jesus came to preach. Jesus calls us to individually reach out to those among us and serve them.

We as Jesus followers are called to deny ourselves, not focus on gratifying ourselves - to put others first, even ahead of our own enrichment. Jesus calls us to pick up the cross of service, the cross of love, the cross of self-sacrifice and love of our neighbor.

Jesus actually warns AGAINST seeking to save oneself. To do so means we will actually lose ourselves. (Matt. 10:38-39) Jesus seemed to know that we lose our souls when we focus inward, not outward.

And he specifically says that simple praise, crying out or reflexively using repetitive phrases will not impress God, and will not save us, either. Only by doing what he commands us to do leads directly to Godliness, and pleases God. (Matt. 6:7; 7:21-23; Luke 6:46)

We should seek to live in a way that lets God's spirit flow through us in the same way in which it flowed through Jesus, our Master. 

When we do this, we are obeying our Master, whom God sent to us as an example and our teacher. We are then telling  God that we are living lives of gratitude and service, just as his chosen son, Jesus, called us to do.

As his followers, we ought to do no less.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

#Jesus Challenged Religious Leaders To Reform; We Must, Too! #JesusFollowers


The religious figures of Jesus’ day had it all figured out. They knew the religious system and the religious buzzwords inside and out. They could spout bits of Scripture to prove everything he said was wrong. They called him a “heretic” and worse: one who speaks evil against God.

Jesus’ preaching challenged the doctrines of religious leaders, plainly telling them they were wrong, and that they needed to rethink their beliefs and practices.

It was no longer just enough to SEEM to be doing God’s will, one must actually DO it, he said.

It was not enough to SEEM to be pious, praying publicly with long prayers and fancy words. One must actually BE pious, and do much of it in private.

Intentions mattered as much as outward appearances, said Jesus. And the motives of the heart, which give birth to actions, are important to control (and CAN be controlled) and turned towards Righteousness, so that our actions will also be Righteous.

But it is never easy to challenge religious ideas - especially long-cherished ones. It can hurt feelings and brings great anger.

Yet, Jesus was often blunt, and he knew that he would be met with great anger and even death. And so he was. And in three days, God took Jesus back.

But soon after his death and return to God, others came – as Jesus had predicted – with a different Message, one that was easier, less Godly, and less powerful and challenging to authority.

They called on people to believe special things about his death, but to not worry too much about his teachings and life.

They told people that Jesus wasn’t REALLY calling for us to perform Righteous Works, because we are not capable of them.

God, they claimed, at his own good pleasure, doles out the strength we need in order to do the Good Works, then rewards us for doing what He did through us.

And they elevated Jesus to equality with God, so that he could be admired, and worshiped, but not imitated.

Thus, they put Jesus out of reach, out of touch, and out of our minds as a perfect example to follow, and the Dark Ages and “reformation” which followed did nothing to bring the original Jesus back.

Today, the story that was once powerful and universal is powerful in numbers and wealth, but is almost universally arrogant and prideful.

Shockingly, Christendom today promotes a “Wide Gate” of easily-obtainable eternal salvation at the drop of a check, after spouting an unbiblical, simple prayer.

Much of Christendom – particularly PROTESTANT Christendom – teaches that we may, without repentance or Good Works, and with only a few magic words, steal from God the salvation promised through His messenger, even though Jesus told us that this was available to us ONLY if we repented and worked Righteousness.

A movement - a "Reformation" - that started off with such promise, but gained earthly power and dominance at the cost of its soul, is in need of a fuller, more complete Reformation.

A message that originally was a clear, simple call to greatness through perfect Love and a call to serve God and other people through complete self-sacrifice stands in desperate need of renewal.

What is easy to purchase with a quick prayer and a promise of wealth must be rejected and confronted as false and contrary to Jesus’ express teachings.

What is incomprehensible and man-made must be stripped off like a layer of suffocating paint, so the original Truths of Jesus may shine through and breathe again.

What became large and lethargic must become again humble and holy, less demeaning and more dynamic in its evaluation of what we, as God’s creatures are both called to do and capable of doing for others and our Creator, God.

Today, as we embark once again on the Way Jesus preached, we must also dare to boldly question today's religious leaders' long-held, man-made beliefs, as well as some even less attractive alternatives which call us to look inward and serve only ourselves. 

We must do the hard work of discerning God’s will for our lives and re-learning Jesus’ true message. In other words: we must keep Reforming!

Like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, today’s religious leaders are not going to be very happy about being challenged, either. 

But we owe it to God and the one whom God sent to us – the man, Jesus, our Master – to become merely Jesus Followers and servants of God once again.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Gospel Is A Challenge To Serve Others #JesusFollowers


In his ministry, Jesus challenged all those around him.

He challenged the religious authorities who led a faith of empty ritual and mindless words to instead embrace an authentic faith of love and devotion.

He challenged the wealthy to give up the idol of money.

He challenged those who would exclude the weak, the poor, the “outcast” and the outsider to be fully inclusive, because God loves all people equally. (Luke 4:12-13)

And Jesus challenged average people to “come, follow me,” and change the world with their works of Righteousness. (Matt. 4:19)

Jesus’ teachings, when seen as the core of his ministry, challenge us today, as well.

In fact, the Good News that Jesus preached is nothing but a challenge to our comfortable lives. It challenges the lazy faith which is based on mere words and devoid of love of others or Good Works on their behalf.

It’s a challenge to us all, individually, to begin to reach our full potential, by living the way God wishes us to live – lives of selfless service and love.

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 Righteousness, to serve God not money, to lose ourselves, but gain eternity.

Jesus preached to challenge us, and calls us today to live as examples in his name. As God’s chosen Spokesman, Jesus authoritatively calls us to take up his challenge and to follow his example.  (John 13:15; 14:12)

We are called by Jesus to seek and do Good, in order to advance God’s Kingdom on this earth.

Jesus lived, taught and died as a pure moral example for us, so that we should follow him and be made perfect in Righteousness. We do this with God’s help and a reliance on God’s holy Spirit.

And we are required, on this journey of Faith, to always seek God's forgiveness for our faults and failures as we strive towards the perfect expression of Righteousness God's Anointed Son, Jesus, has modeled for us.

We must seek to follow Jesus in ALL his teachings – because Jesus followed God in ALL things, and said we could do all that he had done. (John 8:29; 12:50; 13:15; 1 John 2:6)

We are called to show by our ACTS that we are heeding his call, and are taking up his challenge – not in a prideful way, but in a way that is pleasing to God.

Jesus clearly calls us to an active Faith - a Faith that Works. His teachings, his Gospel, is a challenge worth accepting and worth LIVING, because it leads to directly to a spiritually complete life and, God willing, to eternal life with our Creator.

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 weak emotionalism.

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

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.

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.)

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

Jesus calls on us to let our Good Deeds shine like lights in this world, so that others will see by that light the goodness and love of our Father and Creator, which He has placed within us all. (Matt. 5:15-16)

And 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.

When we encounter what is being claimed to be “the Gospel,” if it fails to challenge us to pursue Good Works, we know that it's a false and easy Faith we've encountered – a wide gate, rather than the Gospel preached from the very mouth of Jesus.

That Jesus challenges us with incredibly high goals is undeniable. That he believed we could achieve them is proven by his words. And because Jesus, a human being like us, has done this, we are assured that we, too, may accomplish God’s will for our lives.

So let’s take up the Good News of Jesus’ challenge in our lives and let it shine within us for all to see!

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)