Sunday, April 22, 2018

Are We Listening To Jesus' Teachings? #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 clever words give birth to man-made doctrines that turn Jesus' religion toxic.

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 help 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.

Jesus says we become holy 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, as some teach.

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 the goal of faith and religion is to only get our SELVES into Heaven, and that it can be done easily, without effort. This is wrong.

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. (Matt. 16)

Far from condemning Good Works, Jesus calls us to do them, without pride, because Godliness is our natural state. (Matt. 6)

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. (Matt. 7)

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. (Matt. 5)

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, alien, and strange. He becomes someone who cannot be understood without the help of a Priestly class. Again, that's wrong.

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, "always wait for God to act, don't act yourselves," or someone who wishes us to simply admire Jesus' righteousness, but not emulate it in our daily lives.

Instead, 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, April 15, 2018

Is Obedience Necessary to Obtain Salvation? #JesusFollowers

Salvation is placed within the attainment of every individual of the human family. God, who gave us existence, designed that existence as a blessing, and He grants every degree of power and instruction necessary to enable us to obtain the reward of our virtuous efforts.

By the mediation and ministry of Jesus, everything has been accomplished for our salvation which is consistent with our intellectual and moral natures.

Some in the state of probation wisely improve their knowledge, piety, and virtue, and thereby qualify themselves for the happiness of heaven; others pass the period of their probation without improvement, and in the day of account they will be found destitute of the qualifications of Christian character.

We, in different proportions, possess the powers of intellectual and free agents; and hereafter an account will be required of the way in which each of our talents has been managed.

We are accountable for what we have and have not done. Our future rewards will be proportioned to what we’ve done under our various circumstances. To all observations of this nature, some may reply, "Moral preparations are indeed absolutely requisite for salvation."

No one will be admitted to heaven, who in the present world is not conformed to the image of God. We must become the children, before they can be made the heirs, of God. 

The very question is: Can we of ourselves acquire the necessary qualifications for heaven? Can we, in our own power, form in their souls the image of their Creator? 

I answer: We possess nothing which we did not receive; and if we received all our powers from God, why should we glory as though we haven’t received them?

Our Maker formed us as free moral agents and has appointed the way by which the true end of our existence may be obtained. God has fitted the earth to yield its increase for the present support of humanity, and we plow the ground with our labors. But those who don’t work won’t harvest.

God in mercy has, by Jesus, promised eternal life to all who by a patient continuance in the ways of well doing, seek for glory, honor and immortality.

The Gospel is altogether calculated for us with our present powers of action; and we are capable of complying with its demands.

The idea that humanity is unable to comply with the conditions of acceptance with our Maker reflects the highest dishonor on the wisdom, benevolence, and justice of God.

When we represent the Gospel as being adapted to human capacity, and requiring from us a service we possess the power to perform –  when we state that God grants all the well-disposed subjects of His government the assistance which is suited to the capacity of an accountable being, and at the same time requires them to co-operate with Him, by the proper exercise of the strength he has given them – we attribute to God the glory of an affectionate parent, the glory of a merciful and benevolent governor, and a just and righteous judge.

The works of each person, God will render unto them, and cause everyone to be rewarded according to their ways.

Christianity places all people in a state of salvation; but it does no violence to our moral ability. It suits its requirements to the present abilities of human nature; and it makes human endeavors necessary to qualify us for the enjoyment of its final rewards.

The gracious provisions of the Gospel fully show the goodness and mercy of our God; and they furnish the highest motives for gratitude, love and obedience in us. God is the parent of our lives, and the author of all our blessings.

God bestows His favors in the most disinterested way, and with the same parental regard beholds all the members of the human family.

By His son Jesus He has provided a remedy for the pollutions of guilt, instructed us in the duties of life, and promised to support his dutiful children under all the trials of the world; and to conduct them to honor, glory, and immortality in heaven.

These blessings, when realized, must move the hearts of all who seriously reflect on them.
When we diligently study the Gospel, we find that it’s fitted to kindle the flame of gratitude and devotion in our hearts, and lead us to a life of piety, righteousness and sobriety.

So, let’s not satisfy ourselves with the words, “Lord, Lord,” but let’s be careful to do the things Jesus has commanded us to do. Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, let us live soberly, righteously and piously in this present world.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Aaron Bancroft, 1822)

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Our Great Capacity to Do Good #JesusFollowers

Human beings have an amazing, in-born capacity to do good, to serve and to love others. We are called by Jesus to put these abilities to use, building God's Kingdom here on this earth, while becoming the spiritually complete human beings God wants us to become.

Jesus calls us to a life of active service of others, knowing that we are capable of what God asks if us. It is not too difficult, not are His tasks hard, if we prepare ourselves, and then act in obedience. (Deut. 30:11-14.)

In his Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13) Jesus tells of seeds (his teachings) falling in hard ground, on rocks, and on receptive soil. In the same way, we must let ourselves become fertile, receptive soil to the teachings of Jesus, and let them take root in our souls, so they bear fruit in the world.

Jesus also taught that spiritually Good treasure comes from those who have stored up goodness in their hearts (Matt. 12:35.) We should in this same way cultivate and grow Goodness within us, so we can share it with others, as God intends us to do.

In his Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25) Jesus says that those who bury their gifts, rather than sharing them fully, do not please God, because our God-given gifts are not being put to good use in the service of others, as God intended.

God has given us great gifts, and we are called to use those gifts to serve others, not to bury them, or to ignore what we have been given. We prepare our minds do Good Works when we recognize our gifts, and then commit to use them to actively follow Jesus' teachings.

We should allow our minds and hearts to be open to others’ needs - cultivating the soil of our hearts to be attuned to their needs.

There are those who claim that human beings are too weak to do good, or that we have an in-born, inherited disease that prevents us from doing good. Others demean the capacity for good works God has given all of us at birth. Both viewpoints greatly slander and demean God.

Seeing ourselves - God's creations - as lower and weaker than we are doesn't make God any bigger, which apparently is the motive for this mistaken belief. Instead, it makes both human beings and their creator seem smaller, weaker, and unjust.

If God had commanded us to be do Good, yet knows that we can never do the Good Works He commands, that would make God an unjust ruler, out of touch with His creation.

But we know that God is perfectly Holy, Just and reasonable to His creations. His judgment is tempered by mercy, and He has always known His creatures are capable of more than we, ourselves believe ourselves to be capable.

God and the one He chose as an example for us, Jesus, have commanded us to seek Righteousness, to do Works of Goodness, and to love our neighbors and our God with EVERY spiritual, mental and material gift that we have been given.

If we need courage and encouragement to serve others, we need only reflect on the gifts we've been given by God, our Creator, including the inspiring and perfect moral life of Jesus. And just as Jesus did, we may seek God's face in prayer for further strength, and we know that we can obtain it.

Because Jesus did all that God called him to do, God was "well pleased" with him, and called him His Son. Because Jesus, a man like us, was able to do what God commanded, we may be assured that we, too, may also become the people God wishes us to become.

Jesus is our template and model in all things, and his words and life are proof that we may do all that God requires of us. When we keep our eyes focused on his teachings, and when we obey them, we become more spiritually complete.

We should respond to his call to do Good Works with enthusiasm, knowing that God has given us what we need to do what He asks us to do - at birth, and through His chosen son, Jesus, and continually through God's spirit, which inspires us always to do more for our fellow human beings.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

No, Jesus Doesn’t Want Us to Be Fools #JesusFollowers

This Easter Sunday has the odd distinction of sharing the date with April Fool's Day.

Jesus never told us to be fools on his behalf, or to believe things that are hard to grasp, irrational, or impossible to believe. Instead, God chose for us a Master and Teacher who teaches us to love God with our minds as well as with our hearts.

The teachings of Jesus can be understood by a child and are MEANT to be this easily understood.

From his first teaching to his last, he displays a deep knowledge of human character, and an adaptation of his lessons to our needs when speaking about God, His worship, His will for our lives.

There is no foolishness, and no confusion to be found in his words, only clarity.

We are called to simply follow the teachings of Jesus, the one whom God chose to be our example in all things. Jesus taught us the way to enter God's Kingdom, God's ideal way for us to live together, and the way we can live with God forever after our earthly lives end, if God judges us worthy of entry.

We need never apologize for seeking to honor and follow the “simple” teachings of Jesus, because the simplicity of the teachings testifies to the great wisdom of the Teacher.

By comparison, all of the complicated teachings of men seem to be mere corruptions of God's simple plan, and Jesus' simple, childlike teachings. In other words, truly foolish.

When theologians tell us that we must believe their dogmas, just BECAUSE they are absurd and impossible to believe, we know these doctrines cannot represent the spirit of God.

Theologians and pastors seek to make complicated and "mysterious" those teachings that God's chosen one, Jesus, made simple and plain to understand. For example,

Our minds have little trouble grasping that God is One, and that He is all-wise, and all-loving, and all-Merciful, and is an eternal spirit, not a man, like us.

And we should never see ourselves as foolish when we proclaim that Jesus was a full and proper human being, like us, chosen by God to be our example and moral guide, adopted as God's Spokesman and Son at his baptism.

We aren't the foolish ones for thinking that we were born equipped to begin the task of obeying God, seeking to do what is Righteous, good, and holy, because Jesus calls his disciples to do just that.

We aren't the fools for trusting Jesus when he tells us that we may do just as he has done.

We're not fools for celebrating knowledge, using our minds, and honoring wisdom and Reason, because these are God’s gifts, celebrated by His Prophets and by Jesus, our teacher.

We aren't foolish for believing Jesus' simple teachings about the Kingdom of God, which we are challenged to help build by serving one another, living in peace together, and thinking of others’ needs before our own.

And we are never to think we're foolish for thinking that doing Good Works pleases God, and that our works alone are the basis for our judgment by our merciful Creator, because we are repeatedly told this by our Teacher, and by the Hebrew Scriptures that he honored.

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.

Nor can we believe for one moment that we are called to be fools – not for Christ Jesus or for those today or in the past who claim to preach and teach in his name.

We seek to follow Jesus, who points us always in the direction of greater knowledge and understanding of God, our Creator.

Yes, Jesus says we will be called "fools" by many in this world for seeking to live Righteously, for putting others' needs ahead of our own; for going the extra mile, and for serving the weak and suffering when it would be easier to just serve ourselves.

But that isn't truly foolish at all. Instead, we may understand it as the kind of rational, natural and Godly behavior that is the wisest and most fulfilling path for human beings to tread.

Happy Easter To All! #JesusFollowers

Happy Easter! Today is the day on which we celebrate the return of Jesus to God after a mission of perfect obedience. We thank God for Jesus' example and teachings, which alone lead us to salvation!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Why Did Jesus Die? A Good Friday Meditation #JesusFollowers

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!" Matt. 32:29-31 (NIV)

"Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem." Luke 13:33 

Why did Jesus die? Jesus said explicitly why he was going to allow himself to be killed: "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you." (John 15:12-14)

So, Jesus died because laying down his life was the greatest form of love. For whom? His friends. Who are his friends? Those who obey his word, which will never become irrelevant (Mark 13:31.) Jesus' death was the ultimate fulfillment of his ministry of love, compassion and self-sacrifice.

This is Godly simplicity! And yet men want to make more, and at the same time, less, of the life, teachings and sufferings of God's Spokesman and our chosen example, Jesus.

Therefore, when Jesus says "It is finished" on the cross (John 19:30) it cannot possibly mean that our requirement to do Good Works is finished, or that our need to go to God to seek forgiveness is finished, or that our duties to serve others is finished. It cannot ever mean any of those things, or Jesus' ministry was in vain.

Let us remain always his friends by seeking to always follow his teachings. Let us not make his death be in vain!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

#Jesus Calls Us To Follow His Teachings To Be Saved #JesusFollowers

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14)

Our Savior makes a sincere repentance of all past sins, and universal obedience to the divine will, necessary to our salvation.

It would not become Jesus' holy Father to receive us into His favor upon other terms; and holiness is in itself so necessary to render men truly happy, that without it, they cannot enjoy themselves, nor be prepared for a state of perfect happiness.

Accordingly, our Master did not only require men to believe in his name, but also exhorted them to forsake their evil ways, and charged those, who became his disciples, to distinguish themselves by their good works. “Let your light so shine before men,” he said to his disciples, “so they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, who is in Heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)

When he sent his apostles to preach the Gospel, he enjoined them to teach those whom they baptized, “to observe all things whatsoever he had commanded them.” (Matt. 28:20) -  a commission they faithfully executed.

We must consider the case of those who hope to be saved by their faith in Jesus Christ, though they are destitute of those good works in which God has ordained, and in which, we should walk.

The Apostle James shows them that as it would be a pretense for someone to say he loved his brother, if he did not manifest his love by kind actions; so it would be mere presumption for anyone to rely upon their faith, if it was not producing good works.

Again, James says: “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what good is that? In the same way, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:15-17)

“Works” here intended are undoubtedly Good Works, done in obedience to the will of God, and proceeding from faith in Christ Jesus; and he principally intends works of charity and mercy.

Some will therefore be most unhappily disappointed, who flatter themselves with the hope of heaven, because they believe in Christ, and rely upon his merits, but do not reform their lives. And yet is not this the unhappy condition of many Christians? For all hope to be saved by Jesus Christ, but few live in conformity to his precepts and example.

There are many things indeed, which are esteemed good works by some Christians, but are far from deserving this name; because they are contrary to the moral precepts of the Gospel, or have not the authority of Christ stamped upon them.

Observing all his commandments, according to the best of our knowledge and ability is necessary to our acceptance with him. We must not therefore content ourselves with doing some good things, while we live in the willful omission of other known duties.

We should imitate our blessed Savior, who fulfilled all righteousness, who did not only pray to his heavenly Father, but also went about doing good to all men; and, by submitting to John's baptism, has taught us to lay due stress upon every commandment of God.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. James Morris, “Faith without works ineffectual to Salvation,” 1757)

Sunday, March 18, 2018

What More Are We Doing Than Others? #JesusFollowers

"What more are you doing than others?" Matt. 5:47

The discourse of our Master of which these words are a part was addressed to his first followers, and especially those who were afterwards Apostles, and preachers of the gospel.

In it, he explains what was their proper character, their station, and their duty; setting them in as striking a light as possible. "You," he says, "are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and a city set upon a hill."

They were to be the public instructors of mankind, ambassadors, as it were, from God, sent by him for the great purpose of persuading a sinful world to abandon their vices, and sinful customs, and to devote themselves to a life of virtue, with a view towards a happy immortality.

It was expected that they should be examples to others, that their lives might illustrate their doctrine. As they were supposed to know more than others, so it would be reasonably expected that they should do more than others.

And in what ways our Master’s disciples should seek to outdo others, he tells them; and the instances he mentions are indeed most worthy of our ambition. Namely, to strive to carry the generous virtues of benevolence, forgiveness of injuries, and the desire to live useful lives, to the greatest height.

He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” And as an incentive to a virtue so seemingly above humanity, he annexes this noble motive, “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Pursuing the same argument, he adds, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

To act in this manner with such true greatness of mind, and disinterested benevolence, is to act the part that the almighty and infinitely benevolent maker of all things continually acts, it is to be as the sons of God, doing the work of our heavenly father. 

Could a nobler principle or a nobler cause of action be proposed to mankind or could they be enforced by a more powerful and worthy motive.

To be governed by these principles, and to act in this manner is to approach as near to the sentiments and conduct of Divinity, as is permitted to mortals.

The religion of Christ lays us under obligation to live as he did, to resemble him in the temper our minds, and the course of our conduct, to obey his commands, and to copy his example, is to confess him before men, and such only as confess him in this manner, will he confess, and acknowledge to be his, before his heavenly Father.

Are we trained up in the sound belief that nothing but a good heart and an exemplary life are pleasing to Almighty God, and will recommend us to his favor and acceptance? Is this our faith? 

So pure and spiritual a profession lays us under obligations to live lives in the highest degree pure and spiritual, worthy of a pure and undefiled religion.

The end [goal] of all knowledge is practice, and it would ill become us to show the zeal that we do by forming ourselves into separate societies, and being at the expense of supporting them, by which we hold out to the world our idea of their importance, if we thought they were merely matters of speculation, and had no connection with moral duty.

Let our lives be as pure, as our sentiments, equally worthy of God and of Christ, and we shall be indeed the light. of the world, the salt of the earth, and a city that is set upon a hill.

Let us not be ashamed of our good confession. I trust we are bearing a public testimony in favor of the purity of. the worship of the one true God, amidst a corrupt and idolatrous generation.

Let all those persons who are possessed of whatever themselves and the world consider as advantages, ask themselves what they do more than others, who are lacking them.

Better for us to be poor, than to be rich and not generous; to be fools, than to be knaves; and to have been taught nothing at all, than to make a bad use of superior knowledge. It would have been better for us never to have heard of Christ than to be Christians in name only, and not in deed and in truth.

(Adapted from a sermon by Dr. Joseph Priestley, “On the Necessity of Self-Examination,” 1805)

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Let’s Stop Vilifying Reason #JesusFollowers

God has never enjoined on human beings the duty of believing without evidence. He has never addressed us other than as rational beings, capable of discerning between truth and falsehood, and expected to do so on our own responsibility.

Revelation came not to supersede reason, or to set aside its deductions; but to enlighten its course, to expand its views, to enlarge its field of action, to dispel the earth-born mists that obscured its vision, to give it broader and more solid premises, on which to build its conclusions, and to prep its wings for a higher flight.

It never calls for the subjection of reason - the 'prostration' of the understanding, to its dictates. On the contrary, it is itself subjected to the decision of reason; and must abide the test. It must be received or rejected according to the dictates of our sober judgment on the evidence presented. And as with the evidence on which it rests, so with the doctrines it contains.

These too, are subjected to the test of reason. We believe them just in so far as we understand them; and no farther. The provinces of faith and reason are not distinct, the one beginning where the other ends. They cover the same ground. 

It seems to us a mere identical proposition to state that what is not understood, cannot be believed. In this case no object is presented to the mind for it to receive or reject. What is not understood is to me no revelation. If a man say that he believes what he does not pretend either to explain or comprehend, he deceives himself. His faith is merely verbal and illusory.

Doubtless there may be many truths both in nature and in scripture, of which we are ignorant. But to us, so long as we remain ignorant of them, they are nothing - they are to us as though they did not exist. 

We pretend not to comprehend the nature and perfections of the Divine Being, for example; but in so far as they are displayed, they are perfectly plain and intelligible - 'he that runs may read them.' And what is not displayed is no concern of ours.

My eye cannot penetrate the deep infinitude of the space that surrounds me; but within the verge of my own horizon I can see clearly, and move freely. Let it not be said that we exalt reason at the expense of revelation. We do but assign to each its appropriate sphere.

Reason, we must admit, was weak and inefficient by itself. And why? It lacked authority to still the clamor of the passions, that disturbed its operations. It lacked facts to render its conclusions certain.
Above all, it wanted sanctions to bind them on the conscience. All this revelation has supplied; and thus, it has completed the system of God's dispensations to humanity.

Those who vilify and degrade human reason; representing it as corrupt and debased; cautioning us continually against trusting to its guidance, and making it the test of a docile and humble spirit, and urging us to embrace doctrines from which reason recoils; do justice neither to reason, nor to scripture; neither to human beings, nor our Maker.

(Adapted from “Presumptive Arguments in Favor of Unitarianism" Jan. 1834, by Rev. Martin Luther Hurlbut)

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Words of #Jesus Will Outlast Men’s Doctrines! #JesusFollowers

Jesus says his words shall never pass away. Yet at first sight nothing seems more fleeting than a word. It is an evanescent impulse of the most fickle element. It leaves no track where it went through the air. Yet to this, and this only, did Jesus entrust the truth for the salvation of the world. 

He took no pains to perpetuate his thoughts; they were poured forth where occasion found him an audience - by the side of the lake, or a well; in a cottage, or the temple; in a fisher’s boat, or the synagogue of the Jews.

He did not even write his words in a book. With a noble confidence, the result of his abiding faith, he scattered them broadcast on the world, leaving the seed to its own vitality.

Looking at the Word of Jesus, at real Christianity, the pure religion he taught, nothing appears more fixed and certain. Its influence widens as light extends; it deepens as the nations grow wiser. But, looking at the history of what men call Christianity, nothing seems more uncertain and perishable.

In actual Christianity, there seem to have been, ever since the time of its earthly founder, two elements, the one transient, the other permanent. The one is the thought, the folly, the uncertain wisdom, the theological notions, the impiety of man; the other, the eternal truth of God.

Transient things form a great part of what is commonly taught as Religion. An undue place has often been assigned to forms and doctrines, while too little stress has been laid on the divine life of the soul, love to God, and love to man. Religious forms may be useful and beautiful. They are so, whenever they speak to the soul, and answer a want of it.

Anyone who traces the history of what is called Christianity, will see that nothing changes more from age to age than the doctrines taught as Christian, and insisted on as essential to Christianity and personal salvation. What is falsehood in one province passes for truth in another. The heresy of one age is the orthodox belief and “only infallible rule” of the next. Since these notions are so fleeting, why need we accept the commandment of men, as the doctrine of God?

Doubtless the time will come when men shall see Christ Jesus also as he is. Well might he still say: “Have I been so long with you, and yet hast thou not known me?” No! we have made him an idol, have bowed the knee before him, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews;” called him “Lord, Lord!” but done not the things which he said. Truth will triumph at the last, and then we shall see the Son of God as he is. Then will men understand the Word of Jesus, which shall not pass away.

Measure him by the best of men, how little and low they appear. Exalt him as much as we may, we shall yet, perhaps, come short of the mark. But still, was he not our brother; the son of man, like ourselves? His excellence, was it not human excellence? His wisdom, love, piety - sweet and celestial as they were - are they not what we also may attain?

But if, as some early Christians began to do, you take a heathen view, and make him a God, the Son of God in a peculiar and exclusive sense - much of the significance of his character is gone. His virtue has no merit; his love no feeling; his cross, no burden; his agony no pain. His death is an illusion; his resurrection but a show. 

For if he were not a man, but a god, what are all these things; what his words, his life, his excellence of achievement? It is all nothing, weighed against the inimitable greatness of Him who created the worlds and fills up all time and space! Then his resignation is no lesson; his life no model – to we, who are not gods, but mortal men.

While one generation of opinions passes away, and another rises up; Christianity itself, that pure Religion, which exists eternal in the constitution of the soul and the mind or God, is always the same. This truth we owe to God; the revelation of it to Jesus, our elder brother, God’s chosen son.

Come to the plain words of Jesus of Nazareth, and Christianity is a simple thing; very simple. It is absolute, pure Morality; absolute, pure Religion; the love of man; the love of God acting without let or hindrance. The only creed it lays down is the great truth which springs up spontaneous in the holy heart: there is a God. Its watchword is, be perfect as your Father in Heaven.

Compare the simpleness of Christianity, as Jesus sets it forth on the Mount, with what is sometimes taught and accepted in that honored name; and what a difference! One is of God; one is of man. There is something in Christianity which sects have not reached; something that will not be won by theological battles, or the quarrels of pious men.

The Christianity of sects, of the pulpit, of society, is ephemeral - a transitory fly. It will pass off and be forgot. Some new form will take its place, suited to the aspect of the changing times.

That pure ideal Religion which Jesus saw on the mount of his vision, and lived out in the lowly life of a Galilean peasant; which transforms his cross into an emblem of all that is holiest on earth; which makes sacred the ground he trod, and is dearest to the best of men, most true to what is truest in them, cannot pass away.

His words and example passed into the world, and can no more perish than the stars be wiped out of the sky. The truths he taught; his doctrines respecting man and God; the relation between man and man, and man and God, with the duties that grow out of that relation, are always the same, and can never change till man ceases to be man, and creation vanishes into nothing.

(Adapted from “The Transient and Permanent In Christianity,” an 1841 sermon by Rev. Theodore Parker)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Using Our Talents To Do Good and Righteous Works #JesusFollowers #parables #Jesus

God has implanted within us an Original Goodness that, when spiritually nurtured, beings forth spiritual completeness, peace, and joy. It is our task to bring out the talents within us, and use them in a Godly manner.

Jesus (Matthew 25:14-30) alludes to this work God has for us to do in the Parable of The Talents (a "Talent" being a description for a sum of money in his time. It is also where we get our word talent, meaning an ability we possess.)

When a group of men were given money, one buried it, two others invested it. Those who used their money for good were praised. The one who hid their money and did nothing with it was condemned for not using the gifts he was given.

We, too, must use wisely the gifts we are given.

And while all of us are flawed, and imperfect, we cannot hide behind this as an excuse for inaction.

All our gifts and abilities come from God. We ought never downplay, degrade or disparage those abilities by saying that they are not good enough to do what God asks us to do. Nor must we pray to God, telling Him that it is HIS job to do the Good Works He calls on US to do.

By asserting that we are somehow unable and ill-equipped to perform them, we take an ungrateful attitude to our Creator's ears. And we must never do that.

God, therefore, doesn't exist to do these things for us. Instead, He gave us the ability to act and do Good on His behalf, and the ability thru Jesus' teachings to know what is Good and Right.

Jesus, the Spokesman of God, and our Example and Template in all things, asks us to use our God-given gifts to act in the service to others.

Jesus preached a Gospel of doing Good Works of Righteousness in humility, seeking to establish God's Kingdom here and now, upon this earth.

Jesus calls on us to love God with every fiber of our Being, to deny ourselves, put others first, and love our neighbors just as we love ourselves.

Our Teacher and Master, Jesus, challenges us to become spiritually complete by actively seeking and doing Righteousness.

THAT is the Gospel Jesus preached, and he challenges us today to take on his Gospel of Good Works, service, and love of others.

And we are well equipped to do this, because this man, Jesus, said that we have the ability to do all the he did. And in all that he did, he pleased God.

Our hope doesn't rest in the idea that God is going to do things to make us materially successful. It rests in the knowledge that God gave us the ability to succeed, spiritually, whether we successful or not in our current material endeavors.

What a great hope and comfort that is!

We ought to be grateful for the abilities God has given us, and while thanking God for them, ask Him to continue granting us the spiritual strength, comfort, and, encouragement that will sustain us thru our lifelong journey.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

#Jesus, Teacher of Wisdom #JesusFollowers

Jesus of Nazareth has forever impressed upon the human race a whole series of truths which Millions regard as normative for life. This fact rates him as one of the world's pre-eminent thinkers. Should he then properly be called a philosopher?

Certainly not in the modern technical sense of the term philosopher common or in the ancient sense of the term as the Greeks understood and used it.

Philosophy is esteemed as the gift of the Greeks to civilization. But there is an important difference between Jesus, and Plato and Aristotle. These latter men, as typical philosophers, were primarily interested in an intellectual understanding of the universe in which we live and of which we are a part. Jesus shared that interest, certainly, but speculation was not his primary concern.

His primary interest was morality and religion, and about these, his thinking was not abstract, but concrete and practical.

In its literal meaning, philosophy means "love of wisdom." Philosophy is not merely the "love of wisdom," it is the best wisdom of the lovers of wisdom. The Jewish people, in New Testament times, had their lovers of wisdom.

They were known variously as wise men, the wise, sages, or teachers of wisdom. They were the educators of their day, men whose special interest lay in knowing and producing the kind of thought which is technically termed Wisdom.

Such sages were usually men of professional scribal training, but a Jew, such as Jesus, might gain a knowledge of the Hebrew language and the Hebrew Scriptures outside of a formal School.

The Jewish sages did not form Schools of thought as the Greeks did. But they were differences among them, especially in regard to the nature of the divine government of the world, and regarding the dignity and possible happiness of human life.

From the Seventh to Second Centuries, BC, there was growing an increasing body of Jewish wisdom teaching. Among these can be classed the Book of job, Ecclesiastes, the Wisdom of Ben Sirach, The Testament of the twelve Patriarchs, the Wisdom of Solomon, and 4th Maccabees.

While the Greek philosopher sought to read the riddle of the universe by the investigation of natural phenomena, the Hebrew philosopher already held in his hand the key of Revelation, and with the help of this, sought a closer understanding of the ways of God and the duty of man.

Jewish Wisdom, therefore, was not a view of the universe distinct from God much less a view of God distinct from the universe it was a view of the universe with God dwelling in it.

Jesus’s thinking likewise was built on the same fundamental Axiom of Jewish thought. No doubt about the existence of God ever crossed his mind. He never argued about or sought to prove the reality of God. He was too much profit to feel the need for any such proof. Nor did he attempt a systematic presentation of the idea of God. Jesus assume the existence of God, not because it was traditional to do so but because of his own inner experience of God.

Like every prophet, Jesus was a man of insight and action. "Not learning, but doing, is the chief thing," was a basic principle of Jewish wisdom teaching. That principle set the motive for Jesus. Life was something to be lived, rather than something about which to speculate or construct a systemic Theory.

Jesus thought and taught Jewish wisdom. The spirit of the wise was in him. To consider Jesus as a teacher has long been commonplace. What kind of teacher he was has not been so clearly pointed out. Jesus is properly to be integrated with the wisdom teachers of Judaism. This interpretation not only does not modernize Jesus, emphatically orients him, historically.

In Galilee, Jesus's Ministry was primarily that of a prophet and a teacher. The most certain fact that we know about Jesus is that he was a teacher. As the Fourth Gospel quite fittingly ascribes to Jesus this self-appraisal: "You call me Teacher, and Master, and rightly so, for such I am." (John 13:13)

His ethical teaching shines through every account of his life. In Mark, he says, "Let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because I came out for this reason." (Mark 1:38)

Mark records that Jesus was saluted as a rabbi by his disciples. Mark refers to the long, tasseled, teacher's robe which Jesus wore, on which some in the crowd tried to grab.

This picture of Jesus as a teacher is not one that Mark would have invented. It was not a role that was expected of the Messiah.

Here then, Jesus is understood as a man of Wisdom. He is depicted as an itinerant teacher. He preached in the synagogues, for example in Nazareth, Capernaum, and elsewhere. He addressed people in the villages; not only in synagogues, but on the streets. He taught them in the countryside wherever he met them, by the lake, in the field, or on the hillside.

This method of Jesus is characteristically that of the Wisdom teachers. Jesus pursued his ministry in the manner of friendship and intimate personal relationship. He deliberately chose this method rather than any other for his work, for it was a customary method with Jewish teachers.  

Such itinerant teachers are popularly called philosophers. The whole emphasis of philosophy in the first century was ethical, its aim was the formation and guidance of moral character.  But Jesus did not write down his Wisdom, instead, he embodied the living spirit of his teaching in his life.

(Adapted from "The World-View of Jesus," by Elmer W. K. Mould, 1941)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

#Jesus: A Practical Preacher And Fitting Example #JesusFollowers

Jesus was a preacher of repentance and righteousness. He made known the love of God and declared the mercy of God to a guilty world; but at the same time, he insisted that without repentance there can be no salvation. (Luke 13:3-5.) God sent him to bless mankind; but it was by turning them from their iniquities. (Acts 3:26.)

He declared that a leading object of his mission was to call sinners to repentance. (Mark 2:17.) To deny the efficacy of repentance would be to render the mission of Jesus a nullity.

In his Sermon on the Mount he appears altogether in the character of a practical preacher.

He taught that to do the will of God, and seek to be like Him, is the only way to gain admittance into his kingdom, that the condition of forgiveness is our forgiving others, and that the man who hears his sayings and doeth them builds on a good foundation, that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees or we shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (See Matt. 5, 6 & 7.)

When he upbraided the cities in which most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not, he spoke of their impenitence as the sole cause of their destruction, Chap. 11:20-24.

He taught that men will be accepted or rejected according to the use they make of the talents entrusted to their care; that when brought to judgment, they will be received to glory, or doomed to punishment, according to their works (Chapter 25.) Throughout his ministry he taught men to expect salvation, and every blessing, on the ground of the love, mercy and favor of God, solely on the terms of repentance and obedience to the Gospel.

He accepted those as his nearest relatives who did the will of his heavenly Father. Mark 3:35. When a young man inquired of him what he must do to inherit eternal life, he directed him to keep the commandments of God. chap 10:19. He informed the lawyer who tempted him that if he kept the commandments he should live. (Luke 10:25-28.)

Jesus represented God as accepting penitent sinners, on the ground of his free mercy, just as a compassionate father would his offending child when he saw him turn from his folly. (Luke 15.)

He said to his disciples if you know these things happy are you if you do them: (John 13:17) which implies that happiness can be attained only by obedience. He taught them that they should continue accepted if they continued in his word, and that if they did not they should be rejected. (Chap. 15:1-8.)

The Gospel is undoubtedly a system of divine mercy and grace, but in this system conditions are certainly comprehended. The conditions are repentance, faith, and obedience. Without a compliance with these conditions sinners cannot be saved.

We have redemption in Jesus as we have it in his Gospel: he came and revealed it, he lost his life in making it known, he is appointed by the Father to dispense it, and we enjoy it so far as we conform to his teaching and example, so that we should not henceforth live to ourselves, in the gratification of our evil passions and desires, but to him, in obedience to his Gospel, and in the imitation of his example, especially of that generous love which he manifested in laying down his life for the good of men.

Jesus can be an example to us only so far as he was like us in nature, state and circumstances, or as we are capable of becoming like him. Had he never suffered, he could not have been an example to us in suffering: Had he not died he could not have been an example to us in dying. Had he not perfectly obeyed he could not have been an example of perfect obedience.

But now by his death, his character is perfected, his qualifications are completed, his testimony is finished, his obedience is tried and, found perfect, he received a glorious reward, and we have a suitable and perfect example of every excellency attainable by us.

(By Richard Wright in “The Anti-Satisfactionist, 1805)

Sunday, February 4, 2018

God Has Done Much For Us; And Gives Us Much To Do #JesusFollowers

Jesus has, with the utmost propriety, taught us to pray, “Give us our daily bread.” That God is the giver of our daily bread, we cannot hesitate a moment to admit.

But in vain would the sun shine and the rain descend, if we were not to prepare the ground, sow the seed, and gather in the produce, which would otherwise be scattered and lost.

Everything the hand of the Almighty has bestowed with the utmost liberality and profuseness – light, air, water, fire, minerals, metals – all require the labor and ingenuity of man to be productive of their greatest benefits.

And with respect to ourselves, the preservation of our bodies in health depends in no small degree upon our own care, caution, and prudence.

But in these calls upon the industry, care, and attention of humanity, there is no coercion - no absolute uncontrollable necessity; strong motives are indeed presented, but we may, if we will, counteract them. If we do so, we become culpable, and suffer in consequence.

Nothing can be more evident than that we are to work together with God; and it is equally clear that all this would have no meaning, if we were not endued with liberty of acting.

Let us then inquire whether he be not possessed of freedom as a moral agent. Our moral, as well as our rational faculties, are the gift of our Creator. By our moral faculties, it would be understood to mean our perception of the intrinsic difference between moral good and evil. Being thus given, it is ours for the time we are to exercise it.

Revelation, and particularly the Gospel revelation given to us by Jesus, is that influence under which the moral principle fully unfolds itself, and, like the ripening sun and fructifying showers of heaven, assisting and co-operating with human industry, attention and culture, exhibits it in all its beauty, fragrance and utility.

But as is true in Nature’s system, it is also true in the moral system: in vain may the sun of righteousness arise, in vain may divine instruction and assistance be offered, if we will not accept and improve; in vain may the hand of divine mercy be stretched out, if we will be disobedient. Almighty God has, by the laws He has established, put it out of His own power to save the obstinate and rebellious from the consequences of their misconduct.

As He spoke to Israel, saying, “Say unto them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live-turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die, 0 house of Israel?” (Ezek. 18:31; 33:11)

It was as if He says, “I cannot help you if I would, if you will not help yourselves."

Indeed, the power of humanity to obey or disobey, to accept or refuse, is, like the unity of God, so clearly legible in every page of revelation, that it is so abundantly confirmed by every reasoning and feeling faculty, that to doubt of it would be to doubt of our existence. 

As little also can we doubt of the nature and reality of that influence and assistance which is imparted to us from above. Like the light that visits our eyes, it is present if we will but open them to see. Like the air that surrounds us, it is every moment ready to be inhaled, if we do not willfully obstruct the organs of respiration.

At any moment we please, we may have recourse to God’s word, which He has given us, as a good parent gives his children an estate. At first view, and on its very face, it is a generous gift, an ample patrimony, capable of supplying our most pressing demands, with a small degree of attention.

But we are not to satisfy ourselves with this. We are to dig into it to find the treasure it contains - we are to ascertain, by study and experiment, how it is to be made capable of producing the greatest possible benefit; and, if we are wise, shall hear and compare the different opinions of others before we finally decide upon our plan.

God has made us with such capacities for happiness as suited the plans of his infinite benevolence. A state of inaction on our part does not enter into those plans.

God has done much for us, but He has given us much to do; and if we neglect or refuse to fall in with His intentions, our interest and our happiness suffer in proportion, for His laws are not to be disregarded with impunity.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Ralph Eddowes, 1817)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Our Teacher, #Jesus, Says: Follow Me! #JesusFollowers

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 does it instead call us to sacrifice ALL for others?

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?

Let's not be deceived by what popular preaching tells us. In truth, Jesus challenges us to a 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.

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.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Perfection: #Jesus' Most Misunderstood Teaching #JesusFollowers

"You must be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Matt.  5:48) says Jesus. His life demonstrates the self-denial and sacrifice that leads to this moral perfection, and he calls us to follow his example.

And the Perfection of our Character is what he meant here. Jesus doesn't require us to be the fastest runner, the snappiest dresser, or the most perfect speakers in the world. Perfection doesn't mean we all should seek to look alike, or that we must be able do every mundane task perfectly, without mistakes.

These misunderstandings about what Perfection means is why some claim that we cannot "be perfect" in all things. And if these physical examples were the perfection Jesus demanded, all reasonable people could easily reject such a thing as impossible.

But how DO we achieve it?

Jesus simply asks us to daily seek Godly perfection in all we think, say, and do. Through service and self-sacrifice, we are perfected. This is the cross, the burden, Jesus bids us to take up in our daily journey.

Those who too quickly condemn the idea of obtaining moral perfection are therefore in conflict with Jesus' teachings, and deny that he spoke the truth during his ministry about our ability to follow him.

Jesus offers to us his lessons, his experiences, and his life as a perfect example of one who lived in perfect harmony with God, whom Jesus said was his and our Father. Jesus calls us to follow his example, doing exactly as he did, and to be perfect and holy, just as God is perfect and holy.

This Jesus, who said he was perfectly in accord with the Father, always doing what pleased Him (John 8:29) said that we could do all things that he did, and that if we loved him, we would do all that he taught us (John 14:21; 15:10) and would teach others to do the same. (Matt. 28:20)

The moral perfection of our character is the goal we are called to seek - growing into the people God wishes us to become. By taking up Jesus' challenge to seek perfection, we become part of God's Spiritual Kingdom Jesus established with his ministry of Good Works.

Jesus calls us to forgive, just as God forgives, and be merciful, just as God is merciful. Seeking to be Godly people is never labeled as "impossible" for us by Jesus. On the contrary, as a fully human man, just as we are, he demonstrated that God's commands are neither unreasonable, nor impossible.

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 calls us to serve one another, to love one another, and to fill our neighbors’ physical and spiritual needs – feeding, clothing, comforting one another –  just as we would want ourselves to be cared for. This the core of his teaching, and the core of God’s Kingdom.

By seeking to live according to the Will of God, as shown in the life, teachings and death of God's chosen spokesman, Jesus, we grow into the likeness of God, growing more perfect each day.

Jesus' challenging calls to be merciful and live lives of Moral Perfection teach us that we must avoid a lazy, easy religion, and instead seek to be better, more holy, joyful, and Spiritually Complete! (Luke 6:36, Matt. 5:48, John 15:11.)

So, let’s keep striving towards the Perfection Jesus modeled for us to live; a Godly ideal worth striving for!