Sunday, December 31, 2017
We can be assured that in this coming year, as in past years, we will face trials and troubles, conflict and even a bit of chaos. But we know that God will always be with us as a source of comfort and strength.
We are confronted with unpleasant and angry people, at work and in our families.
We are torn by indecision and conflict, both within ourselves and among others.
We are given chances to live immorally and treat others unjustly.
And we are faced with challenges that threaten our passion for righteousness and goodness.
But God is with us as our source of strength and wisdom, to guide us in times of trouble.
"Don't be afraid," God assures us. "because I'm with you, don't be anxious, because I am your God. I keep on strengthening you; I'm truly helping you. I'm surely upholding you with my victorious right hand." (Isaiah 41:10)
Our God "gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak" (Isaiah 40:29.)
Jesus, the one whom God chose to be our example and teacher in all things, says we can call upon God in prayer when we need strength, peace and comfort.
To hope for a life of ease, without any problems and a guarantee of wealth, power, health and fame is not the Way Jesus promises us. Instead, Jesus tells us what the Prophets of old told us, that we are not alone because we have God with us.
We are to find peace not in a vague IDEA of Jesus, or in adoring the PERSON of Jesus, but in the life, message and death of this man whom God chose and sent out to us as our perfect example.
Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." (John 14:27)
And, further, he says, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Peace, or "shalom," was in Jesus' day, and remains, a greeting for the Jewish people. It signals that God's peace is with us, and that we may take comfort in God's sheltering arms.
The Psalmist assures us that, "Yahweh is my strength and my shield. My heart has trusted in Him, and I am helped. Therefore my heart greatly rejoices. With my song I will thank Him." (Psalm 28:7)
James, the Brother of Jesus, says trials and troubles strengthen us and make us more perfect (James 1:2-4.) Wisdom is freely given from God, if we ask for it in faith, he says (1:5.)
We may call upon God for wisdom in our times of need, knowing He provides us with all we ask of Him (Matt. 7:7.)
We are urged by Jesus to "remain steadfast" and "endure to the end" (Mark 13:13) seeking after Heavenly treasure when we go to God in prayer (Matt. 6:20; 6:33)
Again, Jesus calls us to hear his words and understand them, bearing fruit and harvesting good works in this world. But when we allow his words to fall on rocky soil, "when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word" that person "immediately" falls away (Matt. 13:20-23.) We must instead by firmly rooted in the teachings of Jesus and the knowledge that God has given us through him and through the Scriptures.
And as the winds of turmoil beat against our lives, if we remain planted firmly in the rock of Jesus' teachings, we will prevail against them. (Matt. 7:24-27)
When we trust in God and follow the one whom He has chosen, we need never fear whatever the world throws at us in 2018 or in any future year, because we know that we can endure to the end.
Sunday, December 24, 2017
Jesus saves us through his example.
He demonstrates for us the Way of perfect service.
He shows us the way God expects us to live and act.
He leads us to serve others in need of love and kindness.
He teaches by his example that we all may perfectly obey God, our Creator.
His life demonstrates the self-denial and sacrifice that leads to perfection.
Jesus, a man like us, was chosen by the One God, Yahweh, to be our Exemplar.
He is our model, our template, our perfect guide.
He shows the Good Works we must do for others.
He leads us to bring in God's Kingdom here on earth.
He teaches us to forgo revenge, hatred and violence.
His example shows how to live, love and even how to die.
Jesus is our teacher of Righteousness, sent from God.
He tells us to repent of past sins and reform our lives.
He shows us how to selflessly love God and others completely.
He leads us to seek forgiveness when we stumble.
He teaches us of God's perfect mercy.
He challenges us to do Works of Righteousness.
Jesus is God's best gift to humanity, who shows us the way to Salvation.
We are led to believe in his mission because of his example.
We are called to love God through his words.
We are saved from evil and sin by following him, alone, and no other.
We learn of God's plan for us only through his moral teachings.
We thank God Almighty for choosing, anointing, and adopting Jesus as his Son and our example.
His mission is confirmed by his example.
His example proves his teachings are realistic.
His teachings are true because of his message.
His message has meaning because he is a man, like us.
His humanity validates his mission.
Sunday, December 17, 2017
Do we become Righteous in the eyes of God by doing good, or can we become Righteous just by saying that we're Righteous? That later short-cut has been the teaching of most Christian pastors in recent years, and it's a very dangerous subversion of what Jesus and the Bible has always taught.
The teaching of modern Fundamentalist Christendom (of very recent origin) is that God can merely "pretend" that we've become Righteous, and will simply ignore our guilt, when we just accept His Son's sacrifice for our guilt.
Some even go on to say that Jesus' Righteousness is "imputed," or handed over, to us by God the moment we simply say that we accept Jesus as our Savior. All that's required for this transaction to take place is for us to mouth a "salvation prayer." That means we can keep sinning, but God will only "see" Jesus' goodness, "covering" our ongoing evil deeds.
As one preacher, Charles Stanley, put it recently, "his righteousness becomes our righteousness the moment we, by faith, accept the work of his son of the cross and receive Jesus Christ as our savior, then we are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ." (“We Are Justified,” Oct. 21, 2017 InTouch Ministries.)
Here's why this is so wrong: Jesus, our Master, never said any of this. And Jesus is our God-appointed Master, not preachers, theologians or other men.
Jesus never tells us we can ever pretend to be righteous on the basis of another’s deeds. Nor did he teach that God will pretend that we haven't been sinning (or let us continue to do evil deeds) if we simply say we accept Jesus' death as a substitute, on the basis of our faith, alone.
In Jesus' preaching, there is clearly no substitute for DOING righteousness. Righteousness is always stated by Jesus as something we must DO, just as it was in all the other books of the Hebrew Bible.
And if God were to see the righteousness of JESUS, and not our own UNrighteous behavior, he wouldn’t be accepting US, but Jesus' righteousness on our behalf. But if God is pretending that we are righteous, and we are actually not, how does He remain Just, if he knows we are doing evil and unrighteous deeds, while hiding under Jesus' Righteousness?
And further, if we accept Jesus' Righteousness as our own, without repenting, without changing our behavior, without performing the GOOD WORKS Jesus calls us to do, then are we not stealing his righteousness? How can any of our actions truly be OUR OWN? How can God see it as our own, if we did not earn it? And how can He hold us accountable for acts that are not our own?
The short answer is that we cannot be "clothed" in a borrowed, second-hand version of Righteousness. God through the Prophet Isaiah tells us (1:16) "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good." These are deliberate actions. They are acts we ourselves will be responsible for performing.
This isn't as easy as taking on another's Righteousness. But it's the challenge of the Gospel.
In fact, Jesus says we are judged not by our words, not by our intentions (and certainly not by another's) but by our own ACTS and DEEDS, and them alone. Period.
The Good News is that we obtain forgiveness for past misdeeds when we seek God's mercy by repenting of those sins. God, we are told, is merciful to those who repent. The Prodigal Son required no sacrifice to have his father to accept him back warmly in his arms. His brother did not need to be put to death, nor did he have to accept such as grisly sacrifice in order for the father's acceptance to happen.
No one can be our "substitute" for us before God. Our repentance, our obedience, and our good works are all required of us, according to Jesus' express and clear teachings. Jesus is our Guide, who calls us to act Righteously before God and on behalf of our fellow human beings.
There's no substitute for personal repentance and devoting oneself to serving others alone, rather than living selfishly and wickedly for oneself alone.
So, we must reject the modern preachers' teachings. In truth, our acts, our repentance, and our Good Works must only be our own.
Jesus says merely mouthing words, like, "Lord, Lord," or reciting man-made creeds cannot substitute for our actions, our deeds, which develop our righteous characters. We are, says Jesus, to lay up good treasure in our hearts and in the storehouse of heaven, and we do this by our own actions alone.
We cannot, says Jesus, demand eternal salvation from God and certainly cannot take Jesus' Righteousness from him and claim it for ourselves by vain words. The teaching of the Hebrew Prophets, along with Jesus, is that we will be judged by our own deeds, and by our deeds alone, and that we will be judged by God alone.
Jesus never taught that there is a substitute for God's judgment, nor for God's mercy on those who sincerely repent and ask for mercy. God doesn't say we get to judge our own actions as sufficient for eternal salvation, He tells us through his chosen Son, Jesus, that we must strive to make our actions more closely conform to the pattern Jesus sets for us.
In this way, Jesus calls us to a vigorous GOSPEL OF GOOD WORKS to actively build a Kingdom of God on earth, as it is in Heaven. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, to NOT selfishly seek to save ourselves, but to give up our selfishness on behalf of God's Kingdom.
And we are to begin this work of the Kingdom RIGHT NOW. We cannot wait until our deaths to begin it, nor is anyone coming in the clouds to do the work for us. This Kingdom was proclaimed as being "in the midst" of those Jesus spoke to during his ministry. He proclaimed it at the behest of his Father - his God and our God, Yahweh.
(And Jesus told his disciples ALL that the Father taught him. Nothing was hidden. Nothing remained to be taught by a future teacher, theologian, or preacher.)
No, we don't "save ourselves" by doing good works without God. We do the works by which God alone will save us, if it is His Will. Christendom has warped and ignored Jesus' words and plain teachings that make this clear. They have substituted man's doctrines of Substitution, imputed righteousness and works-free easy-Believism in its place.
All of these doctrines were created by theologians, preachers and other men. We can easily ignore these doctrines, since they do not come from our one Master, Jesus.
Nineteenth Century minister Noah Worcester said, "Moral character is formed by a succession of moral acts; and this each moral agent forms for himself. Hence, every man must give account of himself unto God, and be rewarded according to his own deeds." He was far closer to the teachings of Jesus than the preachers are today. What went wrong?
Sunday, December 10, 2017
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.
(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Aaron Bancroft)
Sunday, December 3, 2017
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)