Sunday, January 29, 2017
Many Christians throughout the ages have spoken aloud and put down in writing what they believe. And it is good to know what one believes, if you believe it strongly.
But many Christians today can no longer believe what was believed in darker ages, in creeds written by men influenced by their previous pagan philosophies and by men and teachings other than those of Jesus. This has led millions to abandon God and turn their backs on Jesus himself. That's a tragedy!
The emerging #JesusFollowers organization has been seeking for a while now to lay out an alternative path, one that follows the teachings of Jesus alone, influenced only by the moral teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures, which had certainly influenced him.
So, let’s take a moment to lay out some principles on which a new Church can be founded, and one in which Jesus is put ahead of all others.
Following Jesus, we love God and Serve Others, Working Righteousness.
We follow Jesus Alone – The words and teachings of Jesus, not any other teacher, savior or man, are the core of our beliefs.
Jesus is God's Chosen, Adopted, and Anointed Spokesman – God set Jesus apart from other men, Anointing and Adopting him as a special spokesman at his baptism.
Jesus teaches us to repent from sin, and follow God – Repentance (turning away) from actions that separate us from God was the core of Jesus' teachings and ministry.
Jesus is our perfect moral example in life and death – The life, teachings and death of Jesus inspire us to follow Jesus' example.
Jesus teaches us to selflessly love God and others completely – Love of God and love of Others is the core of Jesus' teaching on Love, and summarized the teachings of the Jewish prophets and Law.
Jesus challenges us to do Works of Righteousness – We are called upon by Jesus to do Righteous deeds, by which we will be judged by God, and which bring about God's Kingdom on earth. The Gospel challenges us to do better, be more than what we were, to seek Righteousness through Good Works.
And to seek God's forgiveness when we stumble – We will not immediately become perfect when we start (and continue) to follow Jesus' example and teachings. But when we forgive others who sin against us, we are forgiven by God for falling short of His goals.
God gave us Reason and the ability to obey Him – Reason is a God-given gift we use to discern His will, and we are fully able to follow Jesus' challenge to live our lives for God. We have no excuses.
God, Our Father, is One God – God (the God of Israel and of Jesus) is One God, not many – eternal and completely indivisible. God’s spirit comforts us but is not a separate Being to be worshiped.
God speaks through Jesus and the wisdom of Hebrew Scriptures – The Hebrew Bible and the words of Jesus, interpreted through Reason, faith and discernment, are our guide and comfort, and God speaks to us through these writings.
God gives us spiritual gifts: wisdom, love and moral strength – When we speak to God, God encourages us to obey Him and the one whom He sent, Jesus. God does not promise material wealth or perfect health, but gives freely His wisdom, love and moral and spiritual strength.
To build God's Kingdom here on Earth, as in Heaven – We are called to build up God's Kingdom here on earth, as it is in Heaven.
We yearn to live with God forever – When we persevere in our Faith, doing what we are called to do by God and His Servant, Jesus, and humbly rely on God's forgiveness when we falter, we may live with God eternally, but this is God’s decision to judge us, not for us to judge ourselves, nor for others should judge us.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
The office and work of a witness is to make known the truth, not to those who already know it, but to those who are not in possession of the knowledge of it.
When a witness is called into any of our courts of justice, it is in order that he may bring to our knowledge facts and circumstances which have a bearing on the case in hand, that those who are judges in the matter may obtain the information that is necessary to form correct judgment.
A witness is not expected to make anything true that is not true before his testimony is heard. No person supposes that the testimony of any witness will make that true which is not true. A faithful witness testifies only to facts which are true before his testimony is given.
Christ, the Savior of the world, in the character of a witness, makes nothing known to the children of men but what was true before he came into the world. Every point of doctrine that Jesus taught to the people, was just as true before he came, as it has been since.
Every divine promise contained in the Scriptures relating to the gift of everlasting salvation, and in reference to being blessed by God forever, were just as true before Jesus proclaimed them to the world as they are now.
The Messiah came in the character, and to do the work, of a witness - to make that known which was true before he came. As I have already remarked, a witness comes to show that which was true before his testimony is heard, and not to make something true by merely testifying to its existence.
According to the views of many Christians, the truth of the whole scheme of man's salvation depends entirely upon our believing it! This is another error. They seem to suppose that the thing to be believed, is not true until it is believed. Now, common sense teaches us better than this.
We know that believing a thing does not make it true, neither does disbelieving a thing make it false.
The truth of the case is as the laws of Nature have established it. Would your unbelief prevent the sun from rising? Would your unbelief make any difference as to the matter? Yes, just as much difference as it would in regard to the simple truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; but all the unbelief that ever existed, or ever will exist, can never make it false.
From a Sermon by Hosea Ballou, Nov. 2, 1834
Sunday, January 15, 2017
In some publications of the Gospels, the words of Jesus are printed in Red ink, while the other words around them were printed in black ink.
It is a unique and clear acknowledgment that his teachings, his words, his commands, are special and unique, set apart from the other words. Which they certainly are.
It is right for us to focus more intensely and more fervently and prayerfully on Jesus' words than the words around them.
After all, we have one Master, and that is Jesus alone. No other man, and no others' words, carry as much weight and have as much value as his words do.
Jesus himself said that everything God, our Creator and Father, told him, he relayed to the disciples (Matt. 15.15.) And Jesus said that our Father was pleased with all that he did (John 8:29, Matt. 12:18, 17:5.)
Since Jesus was so in tune perfectly with our Creator, should we not listen more carefully to what he SAYS? Yes, we should.
In fact, Jesus says that his words will never pass away (Matt. 24:35.) If this is true, should we not listen and obey them?
Please, then, read the Red Letters. Put the into practice in your daily lives. Listen to what Jesus is saying to us.
He is calling upon us to obey his teachings and call others to do so (Matt. 28:20, John 14:15.) His teachings are the only "solid rock" we can build a true and genuine faith upon (Matt. 7:24-26.) His teachings are the final authority by which God will judge us (Matt. 16:27.)
His parables all teach us that we are called by God to perform Good Works.
His Sermon on the Mount teaches us guideposts for a radical Faith when we engage with others, even our enemies.
When Jesus reached out to those in need of Spiritual healing, he taught us to live lives of radical service towards others.
His interactions with the poor, the despised, the hopeless and the diseased teaches us that we must not shun others, but to actively have compassion for them.
He teaches us to live Godly, pure and holy lives, and not to do so to heap praise on ourselves, but to honor our Creator.
His calling out of the religious elites of his day teach us to be bold in our Righteous acts, and not give in to hypocrisy or to claim we are righteous because we use vain words or cling to traditions of churchmen.
His challenging calls to be merciful and live lives of moral perfection teach us that we must avoid a lazy, easy religion, but instead seek to be better, more holy, joyful, and Spiritually Complete (Luke 6:36, Matt. 5:48, John 15:11.)
Jesus calls himself a Prophet, chosen by God at his baptism to be God's spokesman (Mark 6:4, Luke 9:35.) Jesus was sent out into the world by God to teach a message of hope, love and service, and to be an example to us today by his actions and words (Mark 1:38, Luke 18:22.)
We are called to do all the he did, teaching others to obey his commands and bring God's Kingdom onto this earth by our acts of Righteousness, becoming more Godly each and every day.
Let us read the Red Letters, and write Jesus' teachings upon our hearts, so that we may be Lights among others, living as he, himself lived.
Sunday, January 8, 2017
Jesus calls on us to “deny yourself, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24.) This goes against much of what we have been led to believe by our culture, which teaches self-love, self-esteem, building up the self, serving the self, and self-centeredness. These are the cornerstones of modern society. We must focus on LOVING ourselves, we’re told.
And yes, on a certain level, we must be at peace with, and love, ourselves. We cannot HATE our existence, we shouldn’t overly despise our bodies, or be so self-critical that we can’t bear to leave our homes in the morning or face others with confidence.
If we went to this extreme, we would live miserable, hopeless lives, and we would likely seek to put an end to ourselves through violent suicide.
But thankfully, Jesus doesn’t call us to hold ourselves in contempt, or to hate ourselves (in an all-consuming, metaphysical sense) and certainly doesn’t want us to be either miserable or suicidal.
Jesus didn’t teach in order to shame us, or to convince us that it was impossible for us to achieve the moral perfection he achieved. While Jesus pointed out individual faults, he never hinted at a collective human inability that keeps us from obeying God’s will.
Instead, his teachings were always encouraging, always loving, always challenging. He plainly and clearly called upon us to reach the very same ideals HE, HIMSELF had reached towards and achieved.
Jesus teaches that we can and must seek to become BETTER, morally perfect Beings, devoted to loving and serving others.
His amazing teachings reveal that we can be JUST AS PERFECT as he was during his life, and that since he was as morally perfect as God was, we, too, must be perfect, “Just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48) and that we will do all that Jesus, himself had done (John 13:15; 14:12.)
Jesus did not have a low view of human Nature, but he did believe that our choices strengthen and grow our Nature, and from that Nature, we would either serve and love others, or reject them, and serve only ourselves.
Only serving and loving others completely and without reservation is the Way of God’s Kingdom that Jesus said we must seek if we were to live up to God’s Ideals.
We are told by Jesus to build a treasury with our thoughts, and out of that Treasure we would bring either good, or bad – either great things, or greatly evil things (Matt. 12:35; Luke 6:45.) Our hearts aren’t naturally evil, or even naturally good, but what we do, says Jesus, makes our hearts one way or another. And from them flows goodness or badness. We get to choose.
The house that we build by following Jesus’ teachings, he says, is being built on a solid, rocky foundation, and it doesn't budge when trials come. If we fail to build it on his teachings, it’s built on shifting sand. His teachings, therefore, are of vital importance to knowing, and following, Jesus (Matt. 7:24-27.)
And that brings us back to this: Jesus told us to deny ourselves.
By denying ourselves – by denying selfishness, and instead living an Other-centered life – we begin living as Jesus calls us to live. By denying ourselves, we aren't doing violence to the nobility of our nature, or denying anything that would bring us greater joy. Instead, following Jesus will transform our holiest ideals into reality.
The life and example of Jesus is the culmination and perfection of human nature, and if we wish to know how perfect we can be, we must seek to not only envision or admire Jesus - the fully human being whom God chose to be our perfect moral guide and example - but we must put Jesus' example into practice in our own lives.
We must be willing to seek to walk just as Jesus himself walked (1 John 2:6.)
If we wish to transform our common, routine lives into something noble we should deny ourselves, and live for others - those who most need our help, love and comfort. If our goals are both Godly and humane, and if serving others is our one ambition, this will lead to the transformation of our lives, and make us truly and fully human, just as Jesus was!
Our lives become holy and noble when our life's goal is to serve others. Jesus calls us to live RICH and full lives - lives rich in service, rich in all-consuming love and devotion to others. Our lives are to be living prayers to God, our Creator and Father, who calls us, thru the example of Jesus, to bring God's Kingdom into the earth, one Righteous Act at a time!
Sunday, January 1, 2017
A new year is a time to take stock of our lives, to examine ourselves, and our place in the world.
It's also a good time to re-examine our faith, and our attitude towards God.
Is our faith in God strong? Can it withstand criticism? Can it withstand scrutiny by others, and ourselves? Do we view God as OUR servant, doing OUR bidding, or are we see ourselves as God's servants on this earth?
Is our faith reasonable? Is it wrapped in confusion, mystery, and illogical doctrines? Does it call us to excuse our inaction, claiming that as human beings, we can do nothing to advance God's Kingdom on earth?
Is our faith effective? Does it serve others, or just ourselves? Does it seek our own comfort and eternal security, or are we willing to sacrifice ALL?
Is our faith built on strong, reasonable and effective doctrines? Or does it leave us confused, mystified by man-made beliefs that make Jesus into something remote, inhuman and one whom we cannot truly follow?
Jesus challenges us to a Good Works-centered, Other-centered faith, one that is joyous and worthwhile.
Jesus calls us to completely give up selfishness, and fully live for God and tirelessly serve the other human beings around us.
Jesus wants us to be clear-eyed and understand exactly what he calls us to do, which means knowing that God's will for our lives is simply this: seek to do Righteousness, love God completely, and serve others fully.
A faith built on working for others cannot be a faith of false pride, or a faith that keeps score. God must be the One who is proud, and God is the One who keeps score and will reward our deeds, according to His mercy.
Jesus says, "FOLLOW ME!" He teaches us to take up a burden of service, love and struggle, just as he did. This, he says, is why he came: to build God's Spiritual Kingdom on this earth.
He wants us to seek the narrow gate, not the easy path. Jesus wants us to avoid the simple, self-centered faith of the religious elites, and follow the righteous and difficult path of costly service.
Jesus teaches us that God has extremely high goals for us, but assures us that God knows we will fall short. God's forgiveness and mercy - absent from man-made doctrines of condemnation and God's alleged wrath - are ever-present and sufficient when we seek them from our Creator.
But Jesus calls us to fail more perfectly each time we try. Which, if we're humble about it, isn't "failure" anymore. We are called by Jesus to "Fail upward" on this journey towards this Godly perfection he calls us to.
Jesus refused to make excuses for the difficult path he was called to follow as God's chosen exemplar for all humanity. Nor must we blame distant ancestors, weak spirits, or physical limitations. All of us are born capable of doing something Good, and God's spirit and Jesus' example refresh and inspire us to grow and do even more.
A new year is dawning. Let it be a new era in which Jesus is known once again as one whom we may truly follow.
On every day of this new year, 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 God-appointed teacher.