Sunday, December 29, 2019

Putting Others First, Just As Jesus Taught! #JesusFollowers


What if everyone put others first in all things? What if all of us, all the time, thought of others' needs and put ourselves in second place?

If this concept doesn't sound familiar to you, it should, because this thinking is at the core of the teaching of Jesus, and is actually the Gospel he taught.

If Jesus is the one whom God chose to be our teacher of Righteousness and our perfect example to follow, what he says actually matters.

And while we would sometimes like to give others' words equal authority to his, in fact, Jesus' words alone are to be our pathway to the life God wishes us to live, if he alone is our Master.

Jesus taught that we must seek not to be first, or the Greatest among others, but instead to be the last, putting others first.

Jesus told a parable saying that we must not seek to give the most important and most visible public seats to alleged VIPs - seeking favors from thrm in return - but instead, we ought to let others, including the poor and disabled sit with us.

“When you host a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or brothers or relatives or rich neighbors. Otherwise, they may invite you in return, and you will be repaid. But when you host a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed." (Luke 14:12-14)

Jesus taught that God doesn't make distinctions among people, and neither should we.

When some of his disciples asked to be given honors, he said that the first would be last and the last would be made first.

Jesus made it clear, speaking to the disciples,  "whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave." Jesus says he made his life a ransom for many, giving all to others. We, he said, must do the same.

Jesus says we must love our neighbors just as we love ourselves, and treat others as we wish to be treated. Further, he said we must deny ourselves if we are to follow him.

We ought to heed Jesus' teachings, then, and seek to treat everyone equally, putting others first, and our desires second.

It's clear from all the he taught that Jesus calls us all to a life of action and Good Works. Every one of our actions in our daily lives should show to others how God wishes humanity to relate to one another and to our Creator.

God wishes us to be holy, just as God is holy, merciful, just as God is merciful, and righteous, just as God is righteous.

Jesus says he did all that God asked him to do, and calls us to always seek to do the same. (John 8:29; 13:15)

Jesus never shirked his duty to serve others, even washing the feet of the disciples as a sign of his humility and how he was living as a "ransom" to others (John 13.)

Serving each other selflessly is the pattern our exemplar, Jesus, gave us to follow. It's not too hard for us, and it's not just a model to admire.

He gave us this example not to make us feel insignificant and unworthy, or to merely "convict us" of our inability to do it, but to prove that this is a path that we, too, may tread, in his footsteps.

By taking up the challenge of seeking to emulate Jesus in all things, we are pleasing God, Who, through Jesus, gave us this challenging Good News, and Who made us capable of accepting it and doing as He wishes us to do.

"Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matt. 16:24)

"And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 8:39)

This was quite the opposite of the teaching of the religious authorities of the time, the scribes and Pharisees, of whom Jesus said, "They love the places of honor at banquets, the chief seats in the synagogues." (Matt. 23:6)

God wishes us to put others first, and his chosen son and spokesman, Jesus, demonstrated in word and deed how to do this perfectly, then told us to follow him and do just as he had done.

Let's get busy, then, serving and loving our neighbors!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Let Us Welcome The Adult #Jesus, Too! #JesusFollowers


Later this week, on Christmas Day, we will "welcome" Jesus into the world along with Christendom. This is a Jesus we already know, a man fully grown and with whom we are more than acquainted.

This isn't a baby we must perpetually welcome into our homes. We are confronted instead with the adult Jesus.

Meeting the adult Jesus is difficult for many, and even frightens them to meet him as an adult and not a helpless, unassuming child. The adult Jesus scared the religious elites of his day because of what he asked, just as he scares the religious elites of today.

Jesus is an adult whom we must each decide whether to ignore, or to serve, as God intended us to do.

If we claim his name, and wish to be identified with it, we must not assume that admiring a baby in a manger is what God wishes. We must not delude ourselves that admiration - or even worship - is alone sufficient. We cannot ignore the adult Jesus, or prefer the baby instead of the adult.

The adult Jesus is hidden away by the religious elites. He scares them. A fully human Jesus, fully grown, with a clearly understood and fully formed mission and a challenging religion of Good Works, scares them to death.

So this adult Jesus isn't celebrated at Christmas. And he never makes an appearance the rest of the year.

Who is this Jesus?

Jesus, the adult, was of course born a baby, but he was born fully a man, of human parents, just as we were born. He grew in the knowledge of God and gained wisdom; he pleased God in all he did. When he became an adult, he was chosen and anointed by God to be our Master, our Teacher, our Template and the Example of how a human being should live for the glory of God and most beneficially for our fellow human beings.

This Jesus is not the one created for us by Priests whom we must simply admire and worship from afar; unable to obey, unable to follow because he is so different, so distant, so alien.

We may instead celebrate the Jesus - a man called and chosen by God - whom we can fully love as our elder brother, and the one whom we can actively follow as our example in all things. We may become more like God because one of us has done it already, setting the example towards which we may strive.

Let us remember the birth, but also the adult life, of THIS Jesus, a Jesus worth celebrating on Christmas Day, and every day.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Real Message of the Thief On the Cross #JesusFollowers


Two men, identified in the Book of Luke as criminals, were put to death by crucifixion on either side of Jesus on Golgotha, the place of the Skull.

In Luke 23:39-43, the story is told that, "One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

This thief's experience has long been repeated by ministers and Christian apologists as "proof" that salvation can come instantly to us, effortlessly, just for the asking, and requires no knowledge or action on our part. But a closer look at this story reveals a deeper message, more consistent with the teachings of Jesus, who should be our final authority.

The teaching of many modern preachers is that the thief received "instant salvation" because of his utterance to Jesus that he believed him to be the messiah.  But they neglect one important fact: the thief clearly knew Jesus, or at least knew about him and his ministry of the Kingdom.

This is evidenced by his statements that he knew that Jesus had "done nothing wrong," that he taught about a "kingdom" and that even his colleague had called him "the Christ," or "One who is Anointed (by God)." In this case, the Messiah, or savior.

His affirmation that Jesus was innocent and that he had been anointed by God to preach about a Kingdom, showed more than a passing knowledge of Jesus and his ministry. 

Therefore, his statements showed a knowledge of Jesus and his teaching, and that teaching had been that all will be rewarded according to their deeds. His utterance, therefore, was evidence of a previous faith in Jesus, even if it had been a recent one.

And we are called to, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 5:16)

Showing mercy to the thief was clearly in line with Jesus' teaching that "blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." The thief's comments to Jesus and his rebuke of his fellow thief were clearly acts of mercy and kindness towards Jesus, who had just forgiven those who were putting him to death, saying "Forgive them, for they know not what they do" (23:34) even as the Roman soldiers and others taunted him.

That the thief would "surely" be with Jesus "today" in paradise (a theological hornets nest, since Jesus was said in the Fourth Gospel to have ascended to Heaven two days later, on Sunday) doesn't mean the thief was "granted" eternal life with God in Heaven, based merely on his utterance on the cross. That would be assuming a fact not stated here. At most, it means he was to stand before God, and be with Jesus, in the afterlife. It certainly showed Jesus' approval, and appreciation, for the thief's comments.

Now, all this is not to say that the thief's late recognition of Jesus wasn't rewarded by God. After all, God isn't bound by our utterances, nor by our sense of Justice. As James (2:13) notes, "Mercy triumphs over justice." Christians today tend to put God in a box, saying that he "cannot" forgive or grant mercy to whomever He wishes. He surely can. 

We must not say that he "may not" grant mercy, any more than we may say that He MUST forgive and grant us eternal salvation, simply because of a single utterance of Faith about Jesus, like the one the thief made from the cross.

It also follows that we cannot take Jesus' mercy here on this one man as a license to extrapolate man-made doctrine and dogmas. Specifically, we may not use this story to imply that works and good deeds are not required by us by God, when Jesus and the entire Hebrew Scriptures before him taught otherwise. Jesus said, "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required." (Luke 12:48)

And when he was asked directly how one obtained eternal life (Mark 10:17-22) he replied by reciting the (Ten) Commandments, and elsewhere gave his own that he believed we are required by God to follow.

Jesus calls us to a life of joyful service done lovingly to our neighbors, so that God's Heavenly Kingdom may be made a reality here on earth each day by the light of our actions.

The moment we are saved by this knowledge, and learn of Jesus' example and teachings, we are then called by him to live the life he demonstrated for us and become the whole and complete human beings God wishes us to become. THAT is the clear message Jesus left for us.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Our Duty To Improve #JesusFollowers

We are in the midst of things; not at rest, but passing onward; not at home, but travelers; not stationary inhabitants, but pilgrims and strangers. We are going on from stage to stage, leaving on the road one scene of business and pleasure after another, and arriving at new. What was ours is ours no longer. What is ours will be soon gone from us.

Behind us are our childhood, our youth, and our early homes, our first warm loves, our first bright hopes, our early innocence and our early sins; before us are the cares and trials of an unknown destiny, and the duties of an uncertain probation - bereavement, toil, sickness, age, death, judgment.
Behind us is ignorance, weakness, imperfection; before us, knowledge, virtue, perfection, or, it may be, worse ignorance, baser sin, and the loss of glory - behind us, a few brief years; before us, eternity.

Improvement is the universal law of God; to which everything in nature, are all conformed. Look where we will, we find nothing made perfect at once; scarcely any thing is stationary; all things are in a state of progress. This may be in a thousand ways illustrated, and in every illustration, we may read a lesson of instruction for ourselves.

The herb, the tree, the animal, spring from an insignificant beginning, and reach their perfect stature by a gradual progress. The day does not open on the eye in meridian splendor. The year does not burst into ripe maturity at once. The nation does not arrive at power and fame in a day. — To look more widely for instances. The earth on which we tread, with its tribes of plants and animals of every order, ascending in a beautiful scale to perfect man, has come to its present condition by a process of improvement.

Our researches into its structure appear to prove, that, before it was brought out of the chaos mentioned by Moses, it had been already more than once inhabited and destroyed.

The remains of its former tenants are found embedded in the ancient rocks. But amongst them are no remains of men. The world, at its several antecedent periods, seems to have been peopled successively by creatures more and more perfect, and then humanity, the most perfect has existed upon it only since its last formation. And we cannot tell that the series of changes is yet completed. It may be, that after the destruction of the earth by fire, it shall be remodeled for the abode of a yet higher order of beings.

Improvement, then, is a law of the universe. All things alike, great and small, are made to be in progress. Individual human beings must not be an exception. We must not allow everything else to move on, and we, ourselves be stationary. 

When the insensible earth and the irrational animals obey the commandment, let not us, who alone are capable of voluntary obedience, let not us alone be unfaithful. When even the all-wise Creator, in unfolding his ways and purposes to his children, observes this rule of constant progression, let not us, with wisdom only of yesterday, children in understanding, let not us fancy that we may rest where we are, and refuse to move forward.

Our very capacity of progress is itself a further reason for striving after perpetual improvement. The plants and animals around us have limits set to their advancement which they can never pass. They go forward by a prescribed course to their maturity, and there they necessarily stop.

The voice which spoke to the sea, “Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther,” has spoken to all things terrestrial excepting man. From that mandate his spirit is exempted. The tree has its growth, and the bird its instinct, and they can add to themselves nothing beyond it. Man, reasoning, immortal, immaterial man, to whom the inspiration of the Almighty has given understanding, has received the power of expansion. His soul may grow - not like his body, which is to perish in seventy years, and therefore becomes perfect in twenty; but, as it is never to perish, it never reaches a perfection beyond which it may not pass. If its duration were bounded by a thousand years, or a hundred thousand centuries, then we might anticipate the day when its growth should be completed. But since it shall exist through eternity, since it can never approach the termination of its being, neither can it approach the termination of its progress. It must enlarge, extend itself, and advance.

Other things may stop, and become stationary; for they are to come to an end. But not man, for he is to know no end. 

Others may be satisfied with a perfection which earth can understand and contain; for they are of the earth, and they shall return to its bosom. But human beings - the children of the Most High - his spirit a ray from the fountain of unquenchable light, made capable of attainments which the gross delusions of earthly beings cannot imagine themselves, let us not dream that any present attainment is our perfection; let us press forward to that mark - that something immense and infinite - which Jesus has set before us as the prize of our high calling. For us to be stationary - it would be a rebellion against our nature, a willful forfeiting of our birth right, and should subject us to the harsh reproaches of our own minds, and to the deserved scorn of all higher and lower beings.

This great progress of the human soul is but begun upon earth. But it is begun. The desire of purity, the love of excellence, the habits of holiness, the relish for spiritual pleasures, are begun below; and he who has made the greatest advances in these during his mortal life, is doubtless best fitted for entering on a future state.

(Adapted from a sermon by Dr. Henry Ware, Jr.)

Sunday, December 1, 2019

God Is The King Of The Earth! #JesusFollowers

“For God is the King of all the earth. Sing praises with understanding.” (Psalm 47:7)

If there is any truth that is clear and indisputable, equal to the comprehension of all humanity, or irresistible in the authority it asserts over the human heart, such is the great truth contained in the text, that God is the King of all the earth, and that it is the duty of human beings to show forth our praise with understanding. 

Superior intellect, extraordinary sensibility, or any strained efforts of the mind, are not required for the apprehension or the intimate conviction of it.

Under certain circumstances, the sense of it grows up in every human being; and it is believed and felt at the heart with a force it were vainly attempted to destroy—which cannot be impaired or weakened. There it necessarily lives, with all the power of the greatest of realities.

Earth, heaven, air, ocean, proclaim it to us. Myriads of moving, living creatures, beyond the utmost powers of finite computation to number, evidence it.

The highly favored, wonderfully endowed race of human beings, the lord of the lower creatures – yet weak, dependent, mortal, who at his best estate is but vanity, whose days are as grass, and whose goodness is but as the flower of the field—the human race affords the last complete and most striking confirmation of it.

The innumerable series of wonders around us, and all the marvels within ourselves; the structure, faculties, affections, and passions of our nature, present to our very sight and view creating, preserving, restraining, and governing power; show us that God is King over all the earth, and call us to give our due homage to the great Potentate, to Whom we belong, by Whose will and for Whose pleasure all things are and were created,—to Whom be all lowly duty and service fitly paid.

Yes, God is absolutely our King. We look upon a vast assemblage of what we term secondary causes; but Nature itself, with all its laws and processes, is but the continual operation of His power. 

All intelligent natures are subject to His sway, and the government He exercises over them has unalterably for its basis holiness, equity, clemency, and faithfulness. The whole world of being, of matter, life, and thought, is His—administered by Him.

He of whom it is said that “whatsoever He pleased that has He done, (that He does,) in heaven, in the earth, in the seas, and in all deep places:” He has also the hearts of all men in his hands, considers their works, proves their ways, disposes their lot, and finally awards their doom, in accordance with those righteous principles which direct all his Fatherly proceedings and counsels,

God is King over all the earth. Our being, condition, and that of all around us, is not an inexplicable accident, causeless, precarious, unconnected with anything more exalted, with other and higher interests, or vaster relations. And the Being from whom all has sprung, upon whom all depends, must be the object of our highest praise with the faculties of our understanding.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Joseph Ashton, preached Aug 23, 1829)

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Preparing For When The Rain Comes #JesusFollowers


The Parable of House on the Rock is among Jesus’ best-known parables. In it, Jesus says: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27/ESV)

While there is a lot here to unpack (and we have dealt with this parable before) what we’re focusing on today is the rain itself. The rain fell, the floods came, the winds blew and beat on that house, just as troubles today beat on our own homes, and on us.

We aren’t surprised when trouble visits us. Jesus tells us the God “makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matt. 5:45)

Trouble and trials are, therefore, part of our lives and existence.

We struggle with money, relationships, work, traffic jams, and numerous other challenges each day.
It’s HOW we handle this flood of challenges that makes the difference.

Jesus uses this parable and the rest of his teachings to tell us exactly how to handle the rains, floods, and wind of our lives.

By putting the teachings of Jesus at the core of our faith, we are able to withstand the troubles of our lives.

When we listen to Jesus, and hear that he has provided us with help, we are far better equipped to cope with life’s challenges than without that help.

Jesus teaches us to bring God’s Kingdom down around us through our individual Righteous acts, spreading God’s love with the light He has implanted within each of us at birth.

Jesus tells us to defeat the evil that comes into our lives not by returning evil for evil, but by praying for and actively loving those who persecute us. This truly defeats evil.

Jesus calls us to actively go about serving others, going the extra mile when asked to serve, and seeking to address the immediate physical and spiritual needs of those around us.

But while Jesus’ parable makes it clear that we may choose to be wise and heed these teachings of his, conversely, we may also choose to be foolish and ignore them.

We can simply make Jesus into a magic totem, chanting his name repeatedly (“Lord, Lord!”) while ignoring his actual teachings and not “doing them,” as the parable instructs.

We can try to make Jesus’ goodness our own simply by “claiming” his righteousness, but failing to actually DO the righteousness he calls us to do in this world. (Through the magic of a man-made doctrine named “imputed righteousness.”)

Or we can simply demand that God allow us into Heaven based on our mere belief in the story ABOUT Jesus, again, while ignoring the work Jesus himself calls us to do here on earth to be worthy of God’s eternal Kingdom.

But this false “instant salvationism” reeks of what Jesus warns us about when he speaks of the “wide gate” (Matt. 7:13.) It’s the easy path many take instead of the narrow gate Jesus lays out of those who are called Jesus Followers and who seek to follow him in more than just name only.

If we have a foundation that is solid – one that is built upon the rock of the teachings of Jesus and not the clever, sandy theological teachings of later men, we can weather any of the storms the world sends our way.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

God Wishes Us To Be Happy And Holy! #JesusFollowers


The peculiar happiness designed for us by our Creator is holiness - the pursuit of moral excellence. In this alone can we find a substantial and soul-satisfying pleasure. In this alone can we make continual advances and continually find new objects presented commensurate with our increased power of acquisition and new gratifications to fill our enlarged capacity of enjoyment.

The same goodness, which imposed on the inferior animals the law of instinct, imposed on human beings this moral law, and for the same purpose, for the promotion of happiness. 

We are not indeed bound like animals to a necessary obedience. But this freedom is an attribute of our superior nature. It is this which makes each of us an improvable being, which if it renders us capable of error, it also gives us the capacity for exalted virtue, if it gives us the ability to sin, it also confers on us the power of repentance and reformation.

What are we taught was the great object of the mission of Jesus? It was to save us from sin. He came indeed to save us from the misery and ruin which are the consequences of our sins, and to save us from these by saving us from sin itself, the necessary and invariable cause of unhappiness - by revealing such truths, presenting such motives, inculcating such precepts, setting such a pure and perfect example, as should lead us to abhor and forsake our sins, and enter on the paths of holiness, peace and happiness.

And accordingly, those who have embraced his Gospel, and have begun to govern their hearts and lives by its truths and precepts, have already entered into eternal life and enjoying a foretaste of the happiness of Heaven.

If happiness is intimately dependent on character, it follows that no condition of salvation can be substituted for a holy life, and that with this no other condition can be necessary. Are we conscious of a habitual and devoted obedience to the law of God and of joy and peace in our obedience? Our present happiness is a foretaste of our eternal future. The character which produces such blessed fruits here, will accompany us to Heaven; and there it will bring forth more abundantly.

On the other hand, if we are conscious of no such obedience, it is folly to lay our hopes on any other foundation. So long as we retain a sinful character, we cannot be happy, either in this life or in the future. Our only resource, our only hope is in a change of character. And that change can be done only by ourselves.

Every man's character is the work of his own hands. If our salvation be ever wrought out, the work must be accomplished by our own free will. No other being can accomplish it for us.  Jesus may set before us the pure precepts of his gospel, he may present to our minds its glorious truths and commanding motives end exhibit his own living example of spotless holiness, but after all it remains with ourselves, whether we will obey those precepts, and open our understandings to those truths, and our hearts to the love and imitation of that perfect character.

The idea that we can be made either better or worse without an act of our own wills is utterly inconsistent with our whole moral Nature. The supposition of our being happy without holiness is equally foolish. Unless we make ourselves good, omnipotence itself - I speak it with reverence - Omnipotence itself cannot make us happy.

That unbounded and ever restless desire after perfect happiness which is continually prompting so many mad endeavors would be fixed and concentrated upon the pursuit of real excellence. Instead of anxiously inquiring how little is absolutely essential to be done, we should be eager continually to learn more of our duty that we might be able to obey more perfectly and feel more of the joy of obedience. What folly, on this view of the subject, is every moment's delay of attention to religion.

I ask what can we do better for present and immediate happiness than to enter into a religious life? From what can we expect purer pleasure? What can yield us a fuller satisfaction? In what pursuit can we embark with a more perfect assurance against disappointment? What a strange error concerning the true nature of religion and our own happiness, to talk of deferring our attention to religion till we have tasted a little more of the pleasures of the world.

Here is the true, essential happiness which God designed for our souls, placed within our reach, soliciting our acceptance, and every moment we neglect to put forth our hand to take it is lost to the true purposes of our being - and shall we madly play about in pursuit of a vain and delusive phantom?

My friends, let us make haste and delay not to enter on those ways which alone are ways of pleasantness and paths of peace.

Adapted from a sermon (ca. 1833) by Rev. Cazneau Palfrey (1805-1888)

Sunday, November 10, 2019

#Jesus Is Our Perfect Example! #JesusFollowers


The life, teachings and death of Jesus inspire us to follow Jesus' example.

Jesus had the fullness of his Father’s spirit; and we have also a portion of the same. This puts all the children of men on equal ground, and makes Jesus our Pattern.

His example becomes the point after which we are to aspire; for his righteousness must be the criterion of judgment; because arrived at perfect obedience, doing in all things that for which he was sent by his Father, Jesus has shown by his example that all are able to obey God.

Jesus was a perfect example to us, to show to us that for the testimony of God our creator, we must be willing, as Jesus was, to surrender up everything unto God; and to do his will in everything, even if it cost us our natural lives. For if we are brought into the situation that he was in, that we cannot save our natural lives without giving up the testimony that God has called us to bear, we have his example not to do it, though we may feel as he did, that it is a great trial.

We have it now on record. We need only take up the precepts of Jesus, only look at his example, and his direction to his disciples, and see if we can find anything, any testimony worthy to be compared with it.

What is true religion? It consists entirely in righteousness, that righteousness which is acceptable in the sight of God. It unites us with God, as it did his blessed Son, and brings us to partake of his holy nature, and we become one with him – as the disciples formerly were declared to be partakers of the divine nature.

Until we do everything in our power, by every means put in our hands, we shall not find support from God! There are no sins so great, in this probationary, earthly state, our Father would not stand ready to forgive, if we turn to Him with full purpose of heart and acknowledge our transgressions.

He gives us the grace of repentance, and enables us so to walk as to be reconciled to Him, and gain a greater establishment in Himself, and in the truth, than when we first came out of His creating hands.

(Adapted from an 1826 sermon by Elias Hicks)

Sunday, November 3, 2019

#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, October 27, 2019

The Gospel Of #Jesus Is A Challenge To Serve Others #JesusFollowers


In his ministry, Jesus challenged all those around him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The words, life, teachings and death of our Master, Jesus, challenge us to do, to act, to follow, to serve, to be better, to do more, to try harder, to be humble, yet Righteousness, to serve God not money, to lose ourselves, but gain eternity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30.) That’s complete and total love, not just lip service or weak emotionalism.

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

Jesus calls us to deny ourselves take up our cross and follow him. (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23.) We are to be “other-centered,” not focused on Self.

Jesus calls on us to do the will of the Father – His God and our God, the Creator of all that is. (Matt. 12:50; John 5:30) Mere words and vain professions are NOT enough to ensure eternity with God (Matt. 7:21.)

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

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

And Jesus calls on us to “go the second mile” (Matthew 5:38–42) which is not a challenge to be lukewarm or partially committed to serving others.

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

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

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

Sunday, October 20, 2019

12 Ways #Jesus Challenges Us to Be Better! #JesusFollowers


Jesus' ministry was a call to humanity to come back to God, our Creator. That’s not a minor thing, nor is it a call that can leave us unchanged.

In fact, while we may come to God “as we are,” we cannot remain unchanged after approaching our Heavenly Father, Who is our God and the Creator of the universe.

God chose Jesus, anointed him, and sent him out to preach His Truth.

Jesus’ ministry calls us to make changes to our life, as well as to humbly approach God in repentance. Without action on our part, starting with our repentance, we aren’t truly returning to God, but simply SAYING we are.

Jesus calls us to be better people; to become the human beings God knows we can become. Mere belief is not enough, that is only the start of our Faith. If we say we love Jesus, we will actively seek to keep his commands (John 14:15.)

Those who claim to know him, but don’t believe his commands are worth following, or are “irrelevant” or are superseded by another person’s teachings, are liars, and don’t really know Jesus at all (1 John 2:4.)

Here, then, are a few (not all) of the commands Jesus gives those who say they follow him:

1. Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30.) That’s complete and total love, not just lip service or emotionalism.

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

3. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves take up our cross and follow him. (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23.) We are to be “other-centered,” not focused on Self.

4. Jesus calls on us to do the will of the Father – His God and our God, the Creator of all that is (Matt. 12:50; John 5:30.) Mere words and vain professions are NOT enough to ensure eternity with God (Matt. 7:21.)

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

6. Jesus tells us we must repent of our sins. “Repent,” he says, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17.) Repent means to feel sorry about our sins, and work to stop sinning.

7. Jesus calls on us to “go the second mile” (Matthew 5:38–42) which is not a challenge to be lukewarm or partially committed to serving others.

8. Jesus says we must lay up heavenly treasures, not earthly ones that don’t last (Matthew 5:44–46.) The race for wealth doesn’t last, but our rewards in Heaven do.

9. Jesus tells us to be a “light to the world” and that we must let our Good Works “shine” so that others may see God’s righteousness manifest in us (Matt. 5:14-16.)

10. Jesus calls on us to choose the “narrow gate” that leads to God and salvation, rather than the “wide gate” that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14.) The popular way, the easy way of “faith alone” and the way that requires the least work isn’t the way Jesus calls us to approach God.

11. Jesus calls us to “do to others that which you would have done unto you” (Matt 7:12.) This “Golden Rule” has been ignored, demeaned and ridiculed by modern Christendom, but it’s at the core of Jesus’ preaching.

12. Jesus calls on us to follow him (Matt. 4:19.) Jesus sets for us a perfect example of how to live our lives (John 13:15.) We have the ability to serve God through Jesus’ moral commands (Matt. 5:48) strengthened always through God’s spirit and Jesus’ holy example.

Let us take up the challenge Jesus puts before us!

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Teachings of Jesus Call us to ACTION! #JesusFollowers


Only those who gain knowledge of the teachings of Jesus and follow him in humility can truly become whole, perfect and complete in Godliness.
Jesus was the perfect example through which we can know and see how God wishes us to act, live, to relate to others and to die.
It is in this context that we can begin to understand the otherwise "difficult" saying of Jesus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6.) The rarely-quoted next verse reads: "If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him."
Seeing and learning without acting upon what we've seen and learned is pointless, and useless, leading to dead faith (James 2:20; 26.) We cannot hide our Light, or keep our Good Works to our selves, but instead, Jesus calls us to spread goodness and light to others (Matt. 5:16.) It is only by action that we spread God's Kingdom upon the face of the earth.
Jesus challenges us to be better than we are, not remain exactly as we were before we met him. The act of following him is meant to transform us; we are to be BORN AGAIN in service and obedience to God, with the example of God's chosen exemplar always before our eyes (John 3:3.)
Jesus didn't ever claim to be God. But he did claim to be Godly, and he was in fact perfectly in tune with God's will. He says of his Father, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:29.)
From his example, we need not look through a "dark glass" seeking vainly for what God wills for our lives. Jesus lays it out clearly, and says we CAN achieve it, and must attempt to do so. And we need not do it alone. God's servant Jesus teaches that we can rely on God's forgiveness when we falter on this journey, and must as a consequence forgive others who may offend us - in Godly imitation of both God and God's servant, Jesus (Matt. 6:14-15.)
The Good and Beneficial Message proclaimed by Jesus wasn't to simply have mere belief in his existence, but was a call to ACTIVELY serve God, to follow Jesus, and to love others just as we love ourselves (Mark 12:29-31.) His Gospel calls us to serve and act, not sit and contemplate, nor to simply admire Jesus nor even to worship him.
To be Good and Beneficial, the message of Jesus must spread goodness to others, and be beneficial to others. To turn a deaf ear to God's instruction through Jesus is detestable to God (John 9:31; Prov. 28:9.)
When we realize the wonderful gifts God has given all people from birth - but we have not used to benefit others until we knew Jesus - we should feel a great sorrow of realization, followed immediately by great joy that we now know the goal for which we were born, and the Good Works for which God has equipped us!
Jesus is a "Door" and a "Gate" by which we may walk through and glimpse the potential life for which God has equipped us - and has promised to continue to equip us. Let us have the courage to walk through this narrow passageway and enter into spiritually complete and morally useful lives together!

Sunday, October 6, 2019

What Do We Owe God, And Others? #JesusFollowers


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

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

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

Even some preachers teach that we owe it to ourselves to be rich - and that God endorses our quest for riches. They even say that our main religious goal in life is a Self-centered goal to "get saved," and save our souls for the next life. Once that's accomplished (and it's done quickly and easily, they claim - with just one prayer!) we may continue to focus on getting rich, and they tell us that we have no other obligations.

And many church leaders rarely speak of OUR duties, but speak of, and sing about, holding GOD to HIS promises.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As his followers, we ought to do no less.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

#Jesus Taught A Reasonable Faith #JesusFollowers



Faith is a reasonable principle. There is nothing dark, mysterious, or unintelligible in it; nothing for which he who values himself most upon the character of his reason has any cause to be ashamed.
It is not an enthusiastic principle that first gives cause to dreams and visions, and then supports itself upon imaginations of its own creating.

It is not a supernatural impression proceeding from the immediate agency of God, capriciously bestowed where He pleases to bestow it, and denied where He wills it to be denied. 

It is not an inexplicable feeling of we know not what, conceived we know not how, and cherished we know not why; it is not the persuasion of anything, whether good or evil, concerning either ourselves or any other being, taken up without reason, and maintained upon principle, that may not be duly specified and explained.

It is not a sudden irradiation of the mind, proceeding from whatever cause; it is the natural and necessary result of the principles that compose the human frame.

To a duly formed eye, show any object of the knowable world, and it is seen: to an attentive mind, propose the evidence concerning any truth that respect the invisible world, and in proportion to the strength of that evidence, it is believed. Whatever persuasion is taken up against evidence or without it, is blind presumption, or romantic imagination, and not Faith.

Faith is as much the effect of evidence, as sight is the effect of sensible impression; nor is the one more absolutely dependent on its cause, or more closely connected with it, than the other. It is a law of our nature.

What sight is in the natural world, with respect to things visible and present, Faith is in the spiritual world, with respect to things absent and invisible: to believe, on sufficient evidence, is as natural as to perceive: and in thus believing, there is nothing more unreasonable, inexplicable, or indefensible, than in seeing with our open eyes the prospect that presents itself before us.

Faith then is a principle no more peculiar to religion in general, than it is peculiar to the Christian religion in particular. Even those who are most likely to treat it with ridicule and contempt in the disciples of Christ, are themselves obliged to act upon it every day and every hour of their lives: it is the very principle which, in the ordinary affairs of life, regulates and governs by far the greater part of their thoughts, their affections, and their conduct.

Faith is the principle upon which men resolve and act; there is no other principle that has so constant and extensive an influence upon them. You cannot even go to a place where you have never been, but it is by Faith you go thither. You cannot seek a person you have never seen, but it is by Faith you seek him: the most trivial and most important actions of our lives are almost all equally dependent on it.

Even our moral conduct, in the most serious and most momentous instances, rests on Faith as its foundation. 

The objects to which our knowledge can extend are very few; when the sphere of our affection and activity go beyond these, it is Faith, not knowledge that carries out our views, our passions, and pursuits; it is Faith that directs, supports, and animates them.

Since Faith is a reasonable principle, we have no cause to be ashamed of it.

It may not be improper to observe, that however natural and just the distinction is between faith and reason, it ought not to be made without some caution and restriction.

A great part of what we ordinarily call reason, is indeed faith; and faith is itself an act of reason. To believe upon sufficient testimony, is one among many other characteristics of reason and intelligence.

If Faith is a reasonable principle, we need not be afraid of pursuing it through its consequences. 

Nothing but what is right can come of what is reasonable; it must diverted from its natural course, or corrupted by some foreign intermixture, before it can dictate or induce to what is wrong. If our Faith is the pure result of evidence, it will give us comfort, and do us honor, to show it in our works.

(Adapted from a Sermon by Rev. Newcome Cappe, 1733-1800)

Sunday, September 22, 2019

THE PARABLES: Is Our Faith Built On A Rock, Or Sand? #JesusFollowers


Could a familiar parable of Jesus actually be teaching the opposite of what most pastors teach us about our Good Works and Eternal Life?

Jesus taught his disciples, and all others who came to hear him, using simple stories – parables – that, despite being simple and relatable, also tended to shock those who heard them.

To read the parable of the house built on the rock with new eyes and fresh ears may be shocking to many Christians who are used to hearing a rather watered-down interpretation. 

Viewing this parable in its clear form is uncomfortable to hear, and perhaps that’s why it and its messages is avoided or touched on so lightly by today’s pastors.

Jesus says: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27/ESV)

A "Faith on the Rock" means one in which good works – DOING what Jesus tells us to do in his teachings – actually matters, and are required for entry into God's Eternal Kingdom. This flies in the face of much teaching from today’s Pastors, but Jesus’ words are clear, and can mean nothing else.

The parable cannot simply mean “right belief” or the mere assent to man-made doctrines. Jesus elsewhere condemns "vain words/empty phrases" (Matt. 5:7) and in a verse just previous to this story, we are told by Jesus that not all those who simply shout, "Lord, Lord" but do not follow his commands will enter into the Kingdom.  But only “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21)

And just so that he was clear – and that by “the Kingdom” we would understand that he was referring also to Eternal Life – Jesus elsewhere answered the question, “what must I do to obtain eternal life,” with clarity: Obey God’s commandments. (Mark 10:17-19; Matt. 19:16-17; Luke 18:19-21)

Mere belief in a set of theological statements or accepting stories ABOUT Jesus is not all God asks of us.

And in truth, Jesus taught that our Eternal Life begins HERE, with the earthly establishment of God’s Kingdom. (Matt. 6:10) Our final destination with God, however, is judged by God alone, and it is according to our Works alone, though we do not judge or own fitness for Heaven. (Psalm 62:12; James 4:12; Matt. 7:1; 16:27)

Jesus himself in this parable says we must “DO” the will of God, our Father, by obeying Jesus’ commands, or we will not be fit for God’s Kingdom.  Jesus tells us he did ALL things our Father and his Father, God, told him to do; and he assures us that we, too, may do all that he did. Therefore, he is our perfect example and model in all things.

We, today, cannot avoid or explain away this or any other message our Master tells us, even if it makes us uncomfortable or challenges us to do Good Works and serve others, just as Jesus did.

If we claim we love Jesus, but choose NOT to hear AND DO what he says, we've built our lives on shifting sands, not the Rock of his words. (1 John 2:4) We honor Jesus with our hearts and minds and actions, therefore, when we seek to do what he modeled for us to do with his life and teachings.


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Are We Born Corrupt And "Evil"? #JesusFollowers

We are by nature, when we are born into the world (since we come from the hands of the Creator) innocent and pure, and free from all moral corruption. We are also destitute of all positive holiness; and, until we have, by the exercise of his faculties, actually formed a character either good or bad, an object of the divine complacency and favor.

The complacency and favor of the Creator are expressed in all the kind provisions that God made of things given for our improvement and happiness. We are by nature no more inclined or disposed to vice than to virtue, and are equally capable of either, in the ordinary use of our faculties, and with the common assistance afforded us. We derive from our ancestors a frail and mortal nature; and are made with appetites which fit us for the condition of being in which God has placed us.

We have passions implanted in us [at birth] which are of great importance in the conduct of life, but which are equally capable of impelling us into a wrong or a right course. We have natural affections, all of them originally good, but liable by a wrong direction to be the occasion of error and sin.

We have reason and conscience to direct the conduct of life, and enable us to choose aright, which reason may yet be neglected, or perverted, and conscience misguided. The whole of these together make up what constitutes our trial and probation. They make us accountable beings, able to make a right or wrong choice, being equally capable of either and as free to the one as to the other.

But what of "human depravity?" The question is not whether there is a great deal of wickedness in the world, but what is the source of that wickedness; not whether mankind are very corrupt, but how they become so; whether it is a character born with them, or acquired; whether it is what God made them, or what they have made themselves.

It is easy to bring together into one picture, and place in a strong light, with exaggerated features, all the bad passions in their uncontrolled and unqualified state, all the atrocious crimes that have been committed, all the bad dispositions that have been indulged; but the picture, though it contain nothing, but what is found in us, will be far, very far, from being a just picture of human nature.

Let all that is virtuous, and kind, and amiable, and good, be brought into the picture, and presented also in their full proportions, and the former will be found to constitute a far less part of it, than we were ready to imagine.

Innocence, and simplicity, and purity are the characteristics of early life. Truth is natural; falsehood is artificial. Veracity, kindness, good will flow from the natural feelings. Duplicity, and all the cold, and selfish, and calculating manners of society are the fruit of education, and interaction with the world. We have marks enough of a feeble, helpless nature, calling for assistance, support, kindness; but we see no proofs of depravity, of malignity, of inclination to evil in preference to good.

By our natural birth we only become human, accountable beings. We receive by natural birth only the human nature. We receive no moral character, but only the faculties and powers, in the exercise of which a moral character is to be formed. 

The formation of this character introduces us into a new state of being, and by whatever means, and at whatever time it takes place, we may be called "a new birth." And those who have thus acquired a moral character, and received the principles of a spiritual life, in addition to the natural human life, may be said to be born again.

We have certainly no cause to feel ourselves humbled under a sense of anything that we are by nature. We have occasion to be ashamed only of what we have become by practice. For the nature God has given us no sentiment but that of gratitude is due. Humility and self-condemnation should spring only from the consciousness of a course of life not answering to the powers, and faculties, and privileges of our nature.

Adapted from the writings of Dr. Henry Ware

Sunday, September 8, 2019

What Did #Jesus Mean By "Judge Not?" #JesusFollowers


"Judge not, lest you be judged." (Matt. 7:1)

People who know almost nothing about the teachings of Jesus seem to know that he said, "judge not."

It's is often used by those who are uncomfortable that others are pointing out their bad behavior, and many others view it as a warning to us not to judge anything or anyone. Consequently, it is used as a deflection to avoid criticism, or to attack concept of criticism itself.

But if we were to use no judgment at all to assess our actions or the actions of others, we would be at the mercy of everyone who expressed an opinion.

We would be unable to judge the worthiness of an action before we took it, making us susceptible to every uninformed whim of emotion that confronted us.

The world is filled with those who are selling ideas and products. If we took "judge not" at face value (and far out if its context) we would not be able to resist any sales pitch or any temptation that confronted us, because we would like the judgment to do so and feel that judging would be wrong in all cases.

And if we assumed “judge not” meant that we could not warn others who were about to make a serious mistake in their lives, or help correct someone who was factually wrong, then the world would be (even more) a place of moral chaos.

But the actual context of this saying of Jesus shows that he is addressing hypocrisy, not criticism. And he guides us to prepare ourselves to judge correctly the actions and choices we see around us.

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."

Jesus is warning us against pointing out other's flaws while ignoring one's own flaws. but by no means does he say that we should never warn people that they are about to make mistakes or urge them to live in a different manner. Nor is he making a statement about never using, or building up, our own good judgment.

Jesus himself called out the hypocrisy of the religious elites of his day, the Pharisees. He said they were living outwardly pure lives but inwardly impure ones. He judged the Pharisees.

He attacked the practices of the Temple system in Jerusalem, saying it was not serving God in a pure way by focusing so much on selling animals at a profit to use as Temple sacrifices. He judged the religious leaders.

He told many to stop sinning, repent, and turn to God. He urged him to live holy lives even if that meant great sacrifice. He judged them.

“Watch yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3)

Jesus calls on us to address our own imperfections so that we may be able to help others overcome theirs.

He wants us to live rightly so we can judge rightly. And he wishes us to prepare ourselves so we can help others.

"Do not judge according to appearance," says our Master. "But judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)

What Jesus was urging people to do was to develop a sense of good and sound judgement. That comes to us first by seeking to inwardly change our own lives so that we may then live as a light to the rest of the world. Only then can we show that we are living examples of the kind of life that Jesus modeled for us.

And Jesus has faith that we may do this.

He says, "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher." (Luke 6:40)

So, while we are never to judge harshly or as hypocrites (failing to do what we are calling on others to do) we are nonetheless called by Jesus to model this good behavior for others, telling them about the teachings of our Master, and calling on people to obey everything he taught. This is his Great Commission (Matt. 28:20)

Let's go do this!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Clear Gospel of #Jesus. #JesusFollowers


The clarity of Jesus' Gospel is obvious to all who read his words. The life, teachings and example of Jesus are a clear window onto the Will of God. We do not need to complicate it or make it mysterious in any way.

Jesus lived, taught and died as an example, so that we would follow it and achieve spiritual completion, just as he has done. That is the core of his Gospel - his Good and Beneficial Message to all the world, for which he was chosen, anointed by God and sent into the world to preach.

Jesus is the moral example by which we are able to follow in order to reach spiritual completeness. He perfectly models for us how to serve and to love others the way God wants us to love and serve others.

There is nothing greater than the teachings of Jesus. His words and teachings were not his, but they came from God (John 14:10) who Adopted him as his son at his baptism, anointing him with His Spirit, choosing him among all other sons of men to not only teach, but to BE his teachings – our exemplar in all things.

Jesus said his actions always pleased God (John 8:29) making him our perfect example in all things.

The wonderful message of the Gospel is this: That WE can do all that God asks of us, because another of our kind, Jesus, was able to fully follow God’s commandments and Will for our lives.

But to do as he has done, we must believe that Jesus left us an example that we can really follow.

Jesus teaches: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” And assures us, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 14:15; 13:15.)

Jesus is for us our Model, our Template, our Guide, our Teacher and our Master.

We are first saved from sin by knowledge of his teachings – that we must repent of our sins, turn our faces to God, and walk in righteousness. When we repent of our sins and pledge to walk in God’s righteous paths, we are forgiven by God, who is, “merciful and gracious, long-suffering – forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin." (Exodus 34:6-7)

The Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus tell us that God forgives our sins simply upon sincere repentance.

Jesus tells us God wishes us to repent of our sins – to be sorry that we committed them, and to cease committing the act of sinning. But without a change in our behavior following this, there is no repentance. Without repentance, we are not following Jesus or serving God.

The words, life, teachings and death of our Master, Jesus, challenge us to do, to act, to follow, to serve, to be better, to do more, to try harder, to be humble, yet Righteousness, to serve God not money, to lose ourselves and gain eternity.

Jesus clearly calls us to a life of Good Works, done in humility and compassion. Service to others leads us to Spiritual Completeness.

"By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk the same way in which he walked." (1 John 2:5-6.) 

Jesus challenges us to become Spiritually Complete by actively seeking and DOING Righteousness, relying on God’s holy Spirit to strengthen us and give us courage to do what is right, and true, and just.

Each of us can grow within us a Spiritual Abundance that gives light and hope to the world, and advances God’s Kingdom here and now, in this place.

Let us take up the challenge Jesus makes clear for us in his Gospel’s words and teachings!

Sunday, August 25, 2019

#Jesus Calls Us To Use Our God-Given Gifts #JesusFollowers


Throughout his teachings, #Jesus spoke to the great, powerful gifts given to human beings by God, and how we are to use them ACTIVELY to do Good for others.

Jesus, in his parables and sayings, explains that to us much has been given. Much, also, is required of us in return. By this way, we become the mature and perfect Beings that God wishes us to become.

His Parable of the Talents shows this most clearly. We are given gifts by God and are called to use them. Putting them in the ground, or keeping them unused, isn't profitable to the Kingdom of God, nor does it grow our spirits.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that we have both the ability and duty to act to serve and love others, even strangers.

Jesus says that we, as young children, are pure in spirit, able to love the way God wishes us to love as adults (Matt 19:14)

Jesus called us to bring forth good treasure from our hearts and turn it into Good Works in the world (Matt. 12:35.) God is the Author of our first measure of Goodness in our hearts. He calls on us to nurture and replenish it daily.

Jesus says that we may seek the spiritual completion (perfection) of God (Matt. 5:48), that we may forgive as God forgives, and that we may be as merciful as our Father in Heaven is merciful (Luke 6:36)

Knowing all this, we can't call Jesus our lord ("master") and ignore what he commands us to do. He has made it clear that God has equipped us to do Good Works, and calls us to go serve others to the best of our natural, God-given abilities.

Giving of ourselves is not a zero-sum game. Serving others, as Jesus calls us to do, doesn't empty us, it fills us, with joy. Helping others brings us closer to God and to emulating the example God gave us, Jesus, who he anointed and chose at his Baptism for that purpose. We are likewise chosen and sent out to act, daily building up God's spiritual Kingdom.

Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30.) That’s complete and total love that is demonstrated in our active Good Works, not just lip service or weak emotionalism that fades by Sunday afternoon when the churches are empty again.

Jesus and our Heavenly Father, God, have become for many mere SYMBOLS - psychological crutches on which we throw all our work and give THEM our moral tasks. Millions drive to churches to chant and praise Jesus' name and "finished work", all the while, averting their eyes as they pass the homeless, the sick, the discouraged, the grieving widow, the hungry, and the ill-clothed living among them. And we wonder why most people under 30 view traditional Christians as hypocrites!

"Do less" or "do nothing" are easy to sell to today's pew-dwellers, especially Americans. Jesus, by contrast, said we are capable of doing Great things, and called us to go do them. Jesus Followers who hear his words and obey them will seek to actively serve others, using their God-given gifts.

It is clear from the teachings of Jesus that we were created for a purpose: to do more - to do ALL WE CAN - to serve and love one another. This is the reason why we were saved by Jesus from the ignorance of our true Nature, in order to be the beings that God created us to be.

To deny that Jesus taught a Gospel of Good Works and active service is to deny his Gospel entirely. Doing good on behalf of others stands at the very core of the Gospel Jesus preached.

Our Nature isn't that of creatures so damaged that we cannot turn our face to God and repent of past misdeeds or weaknesses. Our Nature is of Beings who were created with Free Will, able to know and understand our true mission, outlined clearly in the words and demonstrated perfectly in the life of one of us: Jesus. He says this is the way of God. Why would we second guess him?