Sunday, November 29, 2020
Jesus lived long before the advent of social media, or even computers, but is there anything we can learn from him regarding how to deal with these wonders of our own era?
If Jesus is our teacher, guide, and Master, we can find useful guidance for all aspects of our lives in his teaching and example.
Social media can be, and is, a great benefit. We stay connected with family members, friends and co-workers, often years after they're no longer living near to us; we keep up with current events in our communities, our nation, and around the world, and we meet and interact with people from around the world whom we would never have met without social media.
But social media also has a well-known destructive side.
We can be addicted to staring at laptop and smartphone screens. We can become disconnected with the people who are ACTUALLY around us. And we can misuse this great gift in many new and harmful ways.
It's often easy to say hurtful things, safely hidden behind a screen, that we'd never say in person.
And perhaps one of the most damaging aspects of social media use is that it can portray others' lives as perfect, which leads us to feel bad about how our own lives measure up.
Jesus spoke of the hypocrites of his day among the Pharisees, saying that they were like whitewashed tombs - beautiful on the outside, yet
"You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean." (Matt. 23:27)
Jesus therefore calls us to not bear false witness, or put on a false façade to others.
And what of the content we consume on social media? It's been said of computer programming, "Garbage in, Garbage out." Many years before this saying, Jesus spoke of what we put into our hearts.
"The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." (Luke 6:45)
We are called by our Master to absorb good treasures, treasure that lasts an eternity, and ones that bear good fruit in the here and now.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matt. 6:19-21)
Our God-anointed Exemplar goes on to explain that what we SEE can put goodness or evil into our hearts:
"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your vision is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your vision is poor, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt. 6:22-23)
Jesus also calls us to serve and love our neighbors, just as we love ourselves. (Matt. 22:39) This requires that we remain connected to the living, breathing people around us - friends, co-workers, family, neighbors, and even strangers that we encounter.
We can remain connected and reach out to them through social media, surely, but we ought not substitute a Message or text for a comforting word and a helping hand. Jesus calls us to perform righteous acts, in humility (Matt 6:1) feeding, clothing, comforting, visiting and actively engaging them - in person. (Matt. 25:35-36)
Jesus assures us that his teachings will last forever, and said if we truly love him, we will follow him, and do what he commands us to do.
Let's take his eternal teachings 20 centuries ago to heart when we use the wonderful gifts of our 21st century lives for the creation of the Kingdom Jesus says lives within us, and must come to this earth through our acts in his name!
Sunday, November 22, 2020
We aren't born empty vessels, and God didn't create us just to manipulate human beings' every move. To read the Hebrew Bible or teachings of Jesus like this - as some do - is to grossly misread both.
While surely God does work IN us, and THROUGH us, when we come to a knowledge of God and His deeds, God even then does not make our decisions FOR us, nor are we incapable of acting until He does.
There are some people, born with severe birth defects or due to later injuries, who cannot move, speak or do anything without the assistance of others.
For most of us, however, that's not our reality. We are born fully able to do things, to think, to move, and to use our Reason. These are all gifts of God. We should praise Him for them.
Hopefully, when we do things, we act informed by the knowledge of our Creator and the example of Jesus foremost in our minds, but that's the point: We all have the moral ability to choose, and that's also the free gift of God.
When we get a gift, we must open it, and use it, in order for it to be fully useful. Otherwise, it's soon thrown away. The same is true of God's mental and physical gifts.
God created us to make choices, to put our physical and mental gifts to good use, and to live up to our full potential. We can't wait for God to "work in us" and "make us" do good, or use God's alleged failure to "give us the ability to do good" (as some have argued - using some rather twisted Theology) for us to fail to act as God wishes us to act.
How do we know this is the case? Because Jesus says none of this. Instead, he simply calls us to a life of joyful, active service, picking up our crosses daily, denying our Selves, and loving our neighbors by serving them.
The Hebrew Scriptures tell us that God wants us to act, to do Justice, to seek Mercy, to love others, to be perfect (spiritually complete) and to live fully, and DO Righteousness, living Holy lives.
It is up to each of us to discover and build upon the gifts which God has given, using them to do Righteousness.
Some have said that we will become arrogant and self-righteous if we say we are "doing" righteousness. But the scriptures call us to do righteous deeds, and also makes it clear that God is pleased by them.
Further, we will be judged by those deeds to determine whether we spend eternity with God, our Heavenly Father and Creator.
But Jesus warns us not to do righteousness in front of others just to be seen by them and praised by them. Part of being "holy," then, is being humble.
The Bible and Jesus' teachings also say we will be judged by our deeds - but not by human standards, and not by other human beings, or even by ourselves - but by God alone. We are assured that God does not remember our sins when we confess them to him, and that He is an extremely merciful judge.
Man-made religion creates excuses for why we CANNOT do as God asks, and some even say we must not even try to do Good! But God and His chosen spokesman, Jesus, our example, tells us we CAN do all that God asks, and the life of Jesus shows us that we CAN become the human beings that God wishes us to be.
The Gospel is therefore an active challenge for us to DO righteousness, to ACT in holiness, to SERVE others fully and with joyfulness and humility, because that is our calling as human beings, and that is the challenge God has given us to accomplish! (It's also a Gospel this world needs desperately to hear!)
Sunday, November 15, 2020
We can be assured that in this world, we will face trials and troubles, conflict and chaos. But we know that God will always be with us as a source of comfort and strength.
And, further, he says, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Sunday, November 8, 2020
The Bible tells us that human beings were fearfully and wonderfully made, and created in the very image of God, the creator of all the universe. (Psalms 139:14, Genesis 1:27)
Sunday, November 1, 2020
Nearly everyone has heard the “Serenity Prayer” which says: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
The Stoics of ancient Greece also had a similar belief. Epictetus wrote, in his book the Enchiridion, "Of things, some are in our power, and others are not."
Jesus also addressed change. Some things, he says, cannot be changed, and some things aren’t worth worrying about.
"Do not be anxious about your life," he says, "what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?" (Matt. 6:25)
And in another place, he says, “Which of you, by being anxious, can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matt. 6:27)
While we can temporarily change the color of our hair, in fact, it cannot be changed but remains the same color in the long run. (Matt. 5:36)
In the Book of Proverbs, we learn that having anxiety can weigh us down (Prob. 12:25) and then there’s the oft-quoted Psalm 55, urging us to “Cast your burdens [cares] on Yahweh, and He will sustain you. (Psalm 55:22)
Jesus’ meaning, and the meaning of these other sayings of scripture, is that those things that we cannot change, we shouldn’t waste time worrying about.
And that’s very wise advice.
But while the Hebrew Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus are filled with admonitions to not waste time on things that aren’t changeable – nor worth changing – Jesus clearly calls us to actively change ourselves, to be “born again,” to repent of our previous bad actions, and also calls on us to ACTIVELY do Good Works that will build God’s Kingdom here on this earth. (Matt. 5:16, 6:10, 7:24; Luke 6:33-35)
He says we must “turn” (change) and become like little children, otherwise we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 18:3) That's work we're called to do.
He calls on us to feed others, and clothe and house them. He calls for active service in the name of God and the name of God’s Kingdom. (Matt. 25:35) That's work, too.
Today, his message is often missed, or entirely overlooked, because it’s hard. And we like things that are easy.
God is seen by many as a pill we can take to get easy, fast relief, to stop working. God becomes OUR servant, a “mother’s little helper” in whom we can rest. And finding spiritual rest in God is certainly part of what God is, and what God offers us, in our always-busy, hectic lives.
But God should never be seen as our servant, but as our Creator, the One Whom has sent us a perfect human template, and it is through that template that God calls us to a life of service and self-sacrifice.
Change can often be misunderstood. There’s certainly a time to “let go and let God” but neither God nor the one whom He chose, Jesus, calls on us to abdicate all our responsibilities to God or to others – to become lazy, complacent Christians.
Instead, God and His chosen son, Jesus, both call on us to be active participants in the creation of a new world.
There’s definitely a time for letting go, and giving things a chance to work themselves out. There’s also a time to jump in and do all that we can to make good things happen. Knowing when to do either is the result of wisdom, and if we lack wisdom to know the difference, we should pray that God will grant us more wisdom so we can discern it. (James 1:5)
But taking a default “let go” attitude means that we’ve given up on the life God has gifted to us. It means that we believe God exists only to do all of our work for us, all of the Good Works that He expects US to do, as we bring in God’s Kingdom on this earth.
We are to be Jesus’ active hands and feet, serving others as Jesus perfectly modeled for us to do. Jesus called us to ACT, and he constantly moved from place to place urging people to do all that he did, and to feed, clothe, house and comfort one another.
Giving up and hoping that God will do all this FOR us is not what we are called to do as Jesus Followers. While some things are clearly out of our control, much of what occurs in our lives can be changed by our actions, and must be.
Let us put aside needless and pointless anxiety about what we cannot change. But let us have the courage to get up each day and simply do the Good Works we were called by God through His chosen one, Jesus, to do.
Sunday, October 25, 2020
Jesus came into, and went out into, "the world," when, leaving the country around the Jordan River, he returned to Capernaum after the imprisonment of John, and began to teach in the synagogues and preach, saying, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."
In general it is to be observed, that "to come into the world," do not ordinarily, if ever, in the language of the New Testament, signify to be born, but publicly to assume the character of a divinely-appointed teacher: and "to be sent" signifies to be invested by God with this position, and to be begin an active mission to support it.
When this public mission came upon him, he says, "I came not of my own accord, but He [God] sent me." (John 8:42) And says, "The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve." (Matt. 20:28) These words cannot either with propriety or truth be referred to his entrance into life, for he did come at birth to serve others, and did not anoint himself to this mission, and certainly not as a baby.
Here he is proposing an example to his disciples, and appeals to the knowledge they had of his conduct among them, from his first entrance on his ministry at the age of 30.
He did not make disciples for his own sake, but for theirs; he came not out into towns of Judea to be served by them, but to serve them, and was hereafter to carry his services so far, as even to lay down his life in their behalf.
Jesus, speaking of himself, says, "him whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world." (John 10:36) He was first consecrated, when "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth," says Peter, "with the holy Spirit and with power," to go about doing good. (Acts 10:38)
At the baptism of Jesus, God was heard to say of Jesus, "you are my Beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." (Luke 3:22) And an old reading of this same verse reads, "You are my son, today I have begotten you [become your father]," echoing Psalm 2:7 (and Hebrews 1:5) Both versions testify to his anointing for his mission at his baptism.
Thus this man was set apart, consecrated to his office, and qualified to discharge it, and then was commissioned to go out into the world to execute this mission. According to our Master's own words, he "came into the world" only after his baptism, at which God's holy Spirit descended upon him, and not before.
Jesus, addressing himself to God, and speaking of his disciples, says, "As you have sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world." What is it that he here says of his disciples? How was it that he sent them into the world?
After they had been fully instructed in things about to the kingdom of God, he sent them out unto all nations to preach to others the doctrine he had delivered to them.
When he says of himself, therefore, that God "sent him into the world," since he was sent by the Father, as they were sent by him, he speaks of the authority with which he was invested, of the command that had been given him to publish to the world the doctrine which he had himself received from the Father.
The spirit was not poured out on Jesus, he was not in vested with divine authority and power, thus qualified to execute the will of God and sent out into the world, to take vengeance on them for their sins; but to impart to them, at the expense of all worldly comforts, and, in the end, of life itself, the most consolatory and the most salutary doctrine, the belief and the obedience of which will entitle them unto eternal life.
Is it an advantage that such a great example should was held up to our imitation? Definitely. Would not any person, who aspires to perfect virtue, wish that a perfect model of it should be placed before them, to illustrate and recommend its maxims and its precepts, to guide and to encourage, to animate desires, to invigorate endeavors, and to excite emulation?
This advantage is enjoyed by us far more perfectly than could have been if our Master had not gone out into the world; for by this means his virtues are rendered more conspicuous, they are seen by us in a greater variety of lights, proved by a greater variety of difficulties and temptations, and his example is made applicable to a greater variety of circumstances and conditions.
We see what, if he had continued in obscurity, we could not have seen in him that our duty is in every instance practicable; that virtue is in every condition possible, and abounds with such comforts as can make any circumstances tolerable.
By this means we have the instructions, and encouragements, and incitements, that are contained in his example, who was in all points tempted as we are, and yet was without sin. We may be pure in heart, we may be holy in all manner of conversation; we may have the same mind that was in Jesus; we may walk as he also walked; we may be like God, and acceptable to him; ever growing in his likeness and his friendship. To what dignity, to what comforts of the Gospel of Jesus may we achieve! How good is God! How great a gift is Jesus!
(Adapted from the works of Newcombe Cappe, 1733-1800)
Sunday, October 18, 2020
The Gospel of Jesus was certainly a plain doctrine at first, and in general readily and easily understood by those who heard it.
No one can doubt this who reads the accounts how and to whom it was preached by Jesus. Indeed, it is hard to believe that in a revelation of His will, intended for all humanity, the Almighty Being would fail to find a spokesman to speak clearly on his behalf, so that He would be understood by all.
Not that everything is so obvious and upon the surface, to offer itself to us without any thought or labor. It is not the way of the Almighty to easily bestow anything that is good or excellent upon his creatures.
Nor can we understand the Scriptures without taking the necessary pains, attending to the phrases and customs of the times in which our Master preached.
But by this exertion of ourselves, along with a sincere desire to become pious, wise, and good, we cannot fail to succeed. And we shall be let into all the Truth that is needful for our fulfilment.
It is a bad symptom in any person to see them indolently acquiesce in the principles of their faith without examining them, whether well or ill founded, and making their religion a series of thoughtless assents to forms and doctrines to which they have been accustomed, without any serious application to the practice of piety and virtue.
There is more hope for persons living in open vice coming to their right mind and being awakened to see their errors and be reformed, than those people.
There were men of this character from among the Jews and of the heathen world, who were satisfied with themselves that everything taught to them in their youth was right and true, and nothing further needed to be learned. They rejected without inquiry the teachings of Jesus, and to their utmost, they opposed his teachings.
And thus, all spiritual improvement for them was at an end.
Religion, divine truth, the way to please God, is not the objective of life to such persons. What was instilled into them when they were young was to ill-serve them throughout life.
They were always to remain children. But the Gospel exhorts us to a diligent and careful search after truth, and to grow in knowledge and all wisdom.
Not, indeed, to employ ourselves on barren useless speculations, merely to gratify our curiosity; but on such points that relate to a holy life and practice, and are of the utmost consequence to our true happiness.
We are to seek out: What directions God has given for our conduct, by whom it is that He has revealed himself to us, and what assistances He has taught us to look for in the way of our duty. Finally, we seek after what motives and promises God has laid before us to encourage us in it in all circumstances, to strengthen us against dangerous temptations, to calm and moderate our affections, to give comfort under the unavoidable ills and calamities of life, and carry us safely hereafter to some better state.
This is the knowledge to which Jesus invites us in his Gospel, in which we are to make advances, and surely, we would find much more knowledge to attain, if our lives were greatly extended.
A review of our own errors and recovery from them contributes a method to endear the truth to us, and to confirm us in it. In this way, our wise and good Creator give us a method to produce the greatest good out of the errors and mistakes into which we have fallen.
And although we may at times be involved in darkness and perplexity, and our progress will not always be as rapid and continual as we could wish; yet by an honest, persevering diligence we shall get further into the daylight, and see our way clearer before us. We shall discern greater tokens of divine wisdom in the words of Jesus.
And then we shall find fresh motives and encouragements to our duty, and be more and more animated in our task to overcome the world, and every obstacle that would divert us from the love of God and the obedience we owe to Him.
(Adapted from the sermons of Rev. Theophilus Lindsey, 1810)
Sunday, October 11, 2020
When the various appetites and passions that take place in man are constantly and uniformly directed to, and placed upon, their proper objects and when each and every one of these are kept in due bounds, one not indulged to the suppressing of another such a creature may be said to be perfect.
When the springs of action in us, namely selfishness and benevolence, hope and fear, and the like, are duly balanced, so as that one isn't greater than the others; and, when all these, together with the principle of activity or self-motion, are wholly subject to that principle of intelligence which is likewise a part of the human constitution, and which was intended to guide and direct the whole; then, according to his nature, this is called human perfection, not in distinction from, but considered to be the same as, Christian perfection.
The design of Christianity was to engage us to act the part, and to fill up the just and proper characters of human beings; and. not to enable us to resemble the characters of Angels. The design of Christianity was to make us good people; and not to make us more or better than human beings; and therefore, Christian perfection must be the same as human perfection.
Great riches are likely to engross the hearts and affections of those who possess them, and this shuts up their tenderness and compassion to the rest of their fellow-creatures. And although a person's benevolent actions ought to be proportioned to his wealth and riches, and to the needs and circumstances of his neighbors; Jesus knew, as we do, that great possessions and great benevolence seldom meet in the same person; and this justifies our Master's remark to the rich young man.
People like the young man he referred to are too ready to rest satisfied with not having done evil, whereas, our Master assures us, that as great a regard must be had for doing good, as for simply not doing evil, and that not actively doing good will render us just as blameworthy, and condemnable. "For I was hungry, and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you didn't take me in, naked and you didn't clothe me, in prison and you didn't visit me." (Matt. 25:41)
A benevolent disposition is the most noble and God-like part of our Nature, and, is therefore called the perfection of it. Jesus clearly states (Luke 6:36) "Be merciful (or kind, or benevolent) just as your Father is merciful." and as is recorded in Matthew, 5:48, is the same as to say, "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." When Jesus called us to be the kind of tree that bear good fruit (Matt. 7:17-18) he makes it clear that we have the ability to do good and become morally perfect: "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the Tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit." He notes that we must build treasure in Heaven and in our own hearts, so that "a good man brings good things out of the good stored within him." (Matt. 6:20; 12:35)
Jesus requires a conformity of mind and life to that rule of action that is founded in the reason of things; and makes or declares that compliance to be the sole ground of divine acceptance, and the only way to life eternal.
And, to prove this proposition, the young man's question, that he put to Jesus, namely, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" And likewise our Mater's plain and full answer to this important question was, "If you would enter into life, keep the commandments." (Matt. 19:16-17)
So that to be perfect, according to the plain sense and meaning of our Master, Jesus, is to put on such a benevolent disposition, as will dispose and engage us to pursue the good and happiness of our neighbors as well as our own, and so far as we have power and opportunity for doing it; and if the circumstances of things require it, to part with our all, in this world, for their sakes. "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions an give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
Sunday, October 4, 2020
"Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." (Matt. 13:21-22)
Sunday, September 27, 2020
Our Master, Jesus, left us a legacy of hope with his words, his life, his teachings and his death. All remain an example to us of a life lived perfectly for God. In this, Jesus was clear that he was not hiding anything from his disciples. Nor is anything hidden from us, today.
Jesus said: "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for EVERYTHING that I learned from my Father I have MADE KNOWN to you." (Matt. 15:15)
And Jesus said: "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven HAS BEEN GIVEN TO YOU." (Matt. 13:11) "Because whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open." (Mark 4:22)
This was not true for some religions of the ancient Roman world in which Jesus lived. For some, faith was built around a "mystery." Priests of these "mystery religions" were charged with revealing the secrets of the gods to those who had been initiated. Only then were these "mysteries" unfolded to the one who had committed to worship the deities that were the focus of those faiths.
But Jesus and HIS Gospel were different.
Jesus revealed ALL THINGS to the world during his lifetime, and did so openly, and to all.
There was nothing the remained hidden, nothing left out. There were no "mysteries" left to unfold or reveal after the ministry of Jesus ended.
Just as he spoke to his disciples, Jesus speaks to us today - through the simple, clear teachings in the Gospels. We follow Jesus and obey God with our eyes wide open, with our full understanding, as well as our hearts and minds.
Jesus calls us to repent of our sins, to seek to live righteously and in a Godly way, to forgive others, to love and pray for our enemies, to do Good Works (in humility) and to love God and serve others in God's name. He says we will be rewarded according to our deeds alone, judged by God alone: we are not to judge ourselves or each other. That, and nothing more, is the Gospel.
The Gospel Jesus gave us wasn't lacking in anything when his ministry finished with his death on the cross. We need no further explanations, no further revelations, and no interpretations, in order to determine what we must do to please God.
The clarity of Jesus' message is obvious to all who read it. The life, teachings and example of Jesus are a clear window onto the Will of God.
Jesus challenges us to do all that God asks of us, and has given us an example we can follow.
He points us to God, calling us to repent of our sinful acts, seek forgiveness, and live the way God wants us to live.
God continues to grant us all the strength, love and support we need to continue growing into Spiritual Completeness and maturity.
We are told by Jesus to "do as I have done" and to "follow my example." We are not to hide our good works under a bushel basket, but to Do Good, and do so in humility, not simply to be seen by others.
Accepting this knowledge of God's path which Jesus reveals to us, we are challenged to actively live out this Faith as friends and followers of Jesus.
Let us do so with faith, humility and joyful obedience to God, who sent us Jesus to reveal His will to us!
Sunday, September 20, 2020
What does Jesus mean when he says, "Counting the costs?"
Too many people are willing to believe in a God that requires nothing – no work, to time, no money, no effort, and no works of love; a religion that’s made easy, that requires less effort than is required to put a meal in a microwave.
They're more than ready to go to Heaven, as long as God carries them there without any requirement that they move their feet a single step.
But the inconvenient problem for those who believe this, and wish to continue to call themselves "Christian" or followers of Christ Jesus, is that this is not the religion Jesus preached. That’s not the path he calls us to walk. It's not the life he wishes us to lead in this life. And it doesn't even lead to eternal salvation with God, our Father.
If people really put a faith in our God at the center of their lives, and believed that Jesus himself lays out this religion in his words, then they would find no work for God too hard, no self-denial too severe, and no offering of service in the name of God’s chosen Son, Jesus to be enough.
Jesus spoke about costly, righteous obedience that would cause people to hate us, and a Godly kingdom here on earth that requires us to act righteously, loving even our enemies. God would then reward us with Heaven based only on our deeds.
That’s a salvation that is not easy, lazy or cheaply obtained with our vain words and lengthy prayers (Matt. 6:7; 7:21.)
That which we obtain cheaply, we esteem lightly. A gift freely given, a gift unwrapped and unused, is a worthless gift, regardless of the cost. Teachings unused, and unapplied, are exactly the same - useless.
Jesus never said that salvation would come without cost. He never said it would require no effort, or that it cannot or must not be earned. In fact, he said just the opposite.
His parables, including this one about the costs involved in building a tower, all point to a costly faith – a faith that requires us to give all we have to serving God by loving and serving both Him and our fellow human beings.
If faith costs nothing, and salvation can be achieved without effort, what "costs" must we count?
If effort and self-sacrifice is not required of us by God, then of what "costs" does Jesus speak regarding the tower in this parable?
If the wide and easy path is the path condemned by Jesus, why do so many seek it?
Those who don't plan, or don't count the costs, or don’t believe there ARE costs in achieving eternal salvation deserve to be mocked, just as those who would build a tower without considering the costs would deserve to be mocked, says Jesus.
And those who don’t consider ALL they have to be on the line when following Jesus should reconsider calling themselves by his name. We must be willing to share all, give all, and do all in order to follow the Paths of Righteousness and, ultimately, eternal Salvation Jesus calls us to follow.
"Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." (Luke 12:48.) Does this sound like the words of someone advocating and approving an easy, lazy faith, to be rewarded by God with a cheaply obtained eternal life?
God said at Jesus' baptism, when He adopted Jesus as his anointed Son and appointed him as our Example and Savior, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him." (Matt. 17:15.) We should, then, listen to and believe Jesus’s words, both here and elsewhere, when he says we must obey God's commands and follow his own example, doing all things he has done in obedience to our Creator.
God chose this perfectly obedient human being to be our example in all things. We therefore must make every effort to humbly and honorably seek to follow Jesus in obedience to his life's pattern, which pleased God so much.
Sunday, September 13, 2020
Some view Reason as opposed to God, and its use as somehow usurping, insulting or opposing Him, as if Reason was by its nature opposed to God.
But Human Reason must be seen as a gift of God, which He implanted within us for us to discover, using the other gifts which He entrusted to us.
We should never base our opinion of a thing based on a false judgement of it, or by the worst belief someone holds of it.
Human Reason can, if not truly reasonable, lead us astray. It can lead us to believe we are greater than the creator, that Reason is itself greater than that which created us, and it.
Once it’s considered to be such a thing, it is condemned, but falsely, since that’s not human Reason IS.
Reason and Faith are not opposed to one another, but are instead both necessary for us to understand God and God's will for us.
Rationality walks hand-in-hand with Spirituality. When irrational elements of religion are stripped away, we may focus clearly on the mission God's Anointed One, Jesus sends us to do.
God gave us Reason and the ability to obey Him, and Reason is a God-given gift we must use to discern His Will.
Just as we ought to not condemn someone based on others’ opinions of them – or mere rumors ABOUT them, which often are not true or are based on false assumptions, biases or slanders – we ought to assess Reason in its truest and purest form, rather than the worst assumptions about it.
Many do the same for te Religion Jesus left us. They consider all the horrific things done it its name, the abuses done to people, the wars, the complicated and contradictory doctrines – and assume them to be the highest version of that religion. Then they say, “See, these examples ARE the religion of Jesus, therefore, we must reject it.”
Such things SHOULD be rejected, but to assume that this is the True Religion of Jesus is to start with a false assumption
It would be as if we judge a tree in autumn, with its leaves fallen out or yellow with age to be “dead,” not knowing about, or deliberately not remembering, the vibrant greens of spring.
Those who have rejected God, also often base that rejection on only the worst aspects of the Christian religion: the toxic additions of men, not the purity of its founder, Jesus.
So too, rejecting the Godly faculty of Reason, it’s been said, prepares one for worse and worse delusions. [Channing, Discourse, 1826]
The teachings of Jesus are reasonable. Jesus calls us to love God with all understanding (Matt. 15:10.) Jesus reminds us that God wishes us to “love the Lord your God with ALL YOUR MIND” (Mark 12:30.) We cannot fully love God, therefore, unless we use ALL of the understanding and knowledge God Himself gave us, and continues to give us.
Reason in fact plays a huge and important role in God’s religion, as expressed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. And just as Reason finds a place, so also is Wisdom, knowledge and understanding greatly praised by scripture, though often, as in Jesus’ time, they are degraded by men who are assumed to be “wise” in religious knowledge.
We must fully embrace the Reasonableness of the Gospel that Jesus has taught, just as the former Prophets of God testified to God’s wisdom and knowledge, which He shares with all of us when we seek it.
When Yahweh says, “Come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18) He expresses his desire to engage and converse with us, His creation, and make reasonable terms by which we may be His children.
In the Proverbs, we read, "By wisdom Yahweh founded the earth. By understanding, he established the heavens. By his knowledge, the depths were broken up, and the skies drop down the dew. My son, let them not depart from your eyes. Keep sound wisdom and discretion: so they will be life to your soul, and grace for your neck. Then you shall walk in your way securely. Your foot won't stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid. Yes, you will lie down, and your sleep will be sweet." (Proverbs 3:19-24)
We are to use our gift of Reason, just as our gifts of wisdom and knowledge, to walk in the way of Jesus, who walked perfectly in the way of God. Our feet stumble less when we adhere to the correct path, guided by these gifts.
Sunday, September 6, 2020
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?"
If we read the words of Jesus, the answers to these and other questions are clear. But if we listen to today's church, their 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.
But modern Christianity is bogged down with man-made words and man-made doctrines that muddle Jesus' message.
They speak words Jesus never uttered: "Justification," "Sanctification," "Total Depravity," "works-salvation." But these words give birth to doctrines that make Jesus' religion a toxic one - one that is easy, lazy, and pointless.
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 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 we must only seek to get our SELVES into Heaven, and that it can be done easily, without effort.
Our goal isn't even 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, both eternally and in this life.
Far from condemning Good Works, Jesus calls us to do them, without pride, because Godliness is our natural state.
Jesus assures us that we will be judged by God according to our Works - the deeds of our hands - and even then, we'll be judged by a merciful and holy God. Our Works will light the world, and reflect our spiritual journey towards Righteousness as we repent for falling short of the Ideal Jesus sets for us with the example of his life.
That is a path Jesus calls us to seek and follow, in his footsteps. And it's a path that is easily understood even by a child.
By twisting and adding to Jesus' simple words and teachings, modern theologians and ministers make Jesus confusing and strange. He becomes someone who cannot be understood without the help of a Priestly class.
Jesus never 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 do even greater things than he did.
This isn't the call of someone who condemns Good Works, who says "wait for God to act, don't act yourselves," or someone who wishes us to simply admire his righteousness, but not emulate it.
When we begin to see Jesus as an example we can follow, he becomes a Master we can also love as a brother.
Let us go out and work Righteousness in this world, doing all we can to be an example of the light of God that was born within us, kindled by the example of Jesus, our teacher.
Sunday, August 30, 2020
The most casual reader must be struck with the uniqueness of the opinions held and expressed by Jesus. They run directly counter to the opinions held by men of all nations, and of all creeds.
Things which the world holds blessed, Jesus curses, and things which the world denounces, Jesus welcomes. Let the Sermon on the Mount furnish illustrations.
Jesus exalts poverty of spirit, puts a premium upon meekness, highly esteems reproach and persecution for righteousness' sake. We seem here to breathe another air, to live in another world from the ordinary life of both ancient and modern times.
Here are no prejudices of nation,
or of age, or of sect. Here is no trace of sentiments which seem innate in human nature.
And yet the disciples of Jesus will share His opinions. They will esteem lovely the graces which won His regard and admiration. They will esteem unworthy the qualities which He branded with disapproval, however men may honour them, or seek under fine names to hide their real nature.
Contemplating their Master with ever-increasing admiration, they will see all things with His eyes. His tastes, His sentiments will be theirs. They will know no law but His, and own no other authority as competent to guide their opinions or to fashion their lives. They will catch His spirit, they will be moulded by His influence, they will become conformed to His likeness. “Everyone that is perfect shall be as his Master."
Actions speak louder than words, and men always look to the lives of great teachers. Are they consistent with their discourses? Do they do the things which they teach others to do?
Often have men enunciated sublime thoughts and lofty precepts, but have miserably failed to put them into practice. It is comparatively easy to discern Heavenly goodness, especially since we have the perfect example in Jesus.
The world itself, unconsciously influenced by the very Jesus whom it rejects, has caught up the benedictions which He pronounced, and parrot-like, repeats them.
Blessed now even in the judgment of the world are humility, piety, liberality. But as for the practice of these, alas, what can be said?
Admiration, applause, patronage, the world can give, for these are cheap, and the very giving of them may gain a good name, but to bear Christ Jesus' yoke? Far from it! To take up his Cross as a personal burden, from that many shrink who are quite willing to lavish upon the Cross in the abstract all homage and praise.
For the Cross as a symbol worn upon the person, built into architecture, glorified by art is one thing. The Cross as a burden, an obligation of today, is quite another! The one is common to all Christendom, the other is confined to the few who are ready to follow the Master wherever he goes.
But Jesus lived as he taught. He was all that He said that we ought to be. These graces of which he spoke so sweetly found their completest expression in his own life.
His words were the utterances of a heart enriched with the indwelling of this blessedness. He spoke that which he knew, and he knew not afar off, but by his own experience.
And so it is in their measure with His disciples. For this they will strive with all the energy of the new life working in them, and they will be content with nothing short of this.
Admiring thoughts and wistful looks vill not satisfy them. True disciples will aim to translate opinion into practice, and though the translation may be often blurred and mistaken, it is yet surely, if slowly, becoming more and more accurate.
Day by day, some old habit is being overcome, some new grace is being acquired. Painfully, perhaps, but most thoroughly, the work is being done, and will continue to be done until Jesus shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied. "Everyone that is perfect shall be as his Master.”
(Adapted from a sermon, "The Disciple of Jesus," given by Rev. W.F. Clarkson on March 10, 1872 in Lincoln, England)
Sunday, August 23, 2020
There are a lot of clever excuses we can use to avoid doing what's right – or even actively do what is wrong. We can say others around us “forced” us to do these things – and peer pressure can indeed be a strong factor.
We can say we couldn't avoid doing them – and if we put ourselves in situations in which sin is happening a lot, that can certainly influence us to go along with others.
And we can also say that we were born so flawed that we CANNOT do anything BUT sin and rebel against God – that we are “only human.” This last excuse is perhaps the greatest lie to ever infect Christendom - and the vast majority of Christians today believe it totally.
If it’s true, just BEING among those pressuring us means that we will cave in to sin every time. And if we are around evil and sinful behavior, that would mean we'd do evil EVERY time.
But that’s not true. We CAN resist, and can work to keep ourselves away from temptation. We know this because Jesus and the Bible teaches us that we can, and must, do so, to please God.
It's important to know exactly what "sin" is in the Bible. John said he wrote a letter so that people "will not sin" (1 John 2:1.) That's not to say that we are going to immediately stop all sinning once we are exposed to the teachings of Jesus, but early Christians clearly expected new converts to make all effort to put behind them the sins they previously did routinely. This was true of stealing, lusting, cheating others, lying, and more.
But if what's being called "sin" is something inherited from our birth, we have a problem believing this, because in the Bible, sin is an act, not a thing.
If it is a compulsion from birth, that cannot be avoided, we have an excuse. We cannot be guilty for being compelled unavoidably in that way.
It's only if we proplrly view sin as a CHOICE which we can avoid, that we begin to view it as the Biblical writers, and Jesus, viewed it. And then, we can confront and defeat it.
We've been taught some theological falsehoods from the pulpit. The Biblical frist man's"original sin" doesn't attach to us.
Turns out, God told Adam's son that sin is a choice, which he can and must avoid (Gen. 4:7-8.) That he chose falsely means he earned punishment, just as God warned.
But only an individual’s ACTS of sin are punishable, and we are not liable for the sins of anyone else (Ezek. 18:19-24.) If we are sinful by nature, and yet we sin, we are NOT guilty, according to God. Only by our wrong choice are we liable.
We must trust God when He told Cain - and by extension, us - that we NEED NOT SIN, and instead, must work to not sin any longer, instead asking God's forgiveness, which is granted freely upon repenting of our past behavior.
We are assured that God has given all people the ability to stop sinning (Deut. 30:11-14; 19) and that we have Jesus as our example that a human being need not sin, and in fact CAN obey and please God.
Jesus’ example is a model upon which we can shape our actions. We must trust Jesus when he said we must seek Godliness and that we could become Godly and complete – not by ourselves, without God or without God’s chosen example guiding us, but with God's ongoing help and with the example of Jesus always before us, leading the way.
We are called to commit our lives to obedience to God's chosen Spokesman, Jesus, the Anointed Prophet of God, and submit to humbly walk with him, relying, as he taught, on God's forgiveness, and growing into the Righteous Perfection that God knows we are capable of achieving.
Sunday, August 16, 2020
"You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men, that they may see your
good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 5:14, 16)
A light is always meant for the use of those who are in darkness, that by it they may see.
The sun lights up the darkness of this world. A lamp is hung in a room to give it light. The
Church of Jesus is the light of humanity. The disciples are to shine into the darkness and give them light.
As the rays of light stream forth from the sun and scatter that light all around, so the good works of believers are the light that streams out from them to conquer the surrounding darkness, with its ignorance of God and estrangement from Him.
What a high and holy place is thus given to our good works. What power is attributed to them! How much depends upon them!
They are not only the light and health and joy of our own life, but in every deed, the means of bringing lost souls out of darkness into God’s marvellous light. They are even more than that. They not only bless others, but they glorify God, in leading people to know Him as the Author of the grace seen in His children.
Let us listen to what the words of the Master have to teach us.
The aim of good works is that God may be glorified. You remember how our Master
said to the Father: "I have glorified You on the earth, I have finished the work which You
gave Me to do."
It is when our good works are something more than the ordinary virtues of refined people, and bear the imprint of God upon them, that people will glorify God.
They must be the good works of which the Sermon on the Mount is the embodiment - a life of God’s children, doing more than others, seeking to be perfect as their Father in heaven is perfect.
The works are an evidence to the reality of the Divine truth that is taught, while without them the world is powerless.
The whole world was made for the glory of God. Jesus came to bring us back to serve and glorify Him. Believers are placed in the world with this one purpose, that they may let their light shine in good works, so as to win people to God.
As truly as the light of the sun is meant to lighten the world, the good works of God’s children are meant to be the light of those who know and love not God.
Good works bear the mark of something heavenly and divine, and have a power to compel the admission that God is in them.
Let us undertake the study of what working for God is, and know that good works are a part of this, with the desire to follow Jesus fully, so we will have the light of life shining into our hearts and lives, and from us, all around us.
"You ARE the light of the world!"
(Adapted from the works of Rev. Andrew Murray, 1828-1917)
Sunday, August 9, 2020
We do not find that God has ever enjoined on men the duty of believing without evidence. We do not find that He has ever addressed them otherwise than as rational beings, capable of discerning between truth and falsehood, and expected to do so on their own responsibility.
Revelation, as we think, 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 imp its wings for a higher flight.
It never calls for the subjection of reason - the 'prostration' of 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 says 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. 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: with what is beyond I have at present no concern. 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 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 completed the system of God's dispensations to man.
For those who rest their hopes on Christianity, there is one fundamental doctrine, and one only. The essentials of our creed may be stated in three words: “Jesus is the Christ; a messenger of truth and mercy from God.”
This simple proposition admitted, with unwavering assent into the mind, the whole business of Christian faith, merely and distinctively, is discharged.
If this single doctrine will not enlighten the conscience, and purify the heart, and regulate the life; if it will not tranquillize the spirit, and enkindle devotion, and awaken hope, and wing the aspirations of the soul to God; if it will not communicate strength to suffer, and a will to serve, then nothing will. We cannot believe that by making our faith more complex we should increase its practical power, even in minds capable of wider and more elaborate views.
(From a Sermon by Martin Luther Hurlbut, 1780-1843)
Sunday, August 2, 2020
Jesus started his ministry with extremely clear words outlining his mission:
"The Spirit of Yahweh ("The LORD") is upon me, because He has chosen me to preach good news to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are being bruised." (Luke 4:8)
He said why he was chosen, anointed at baptism, and sent by God to preach - it was what he called the Kingdom:
"I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I WAS SENT FOR THIS PURPOSE” (Luke 4:43.)
Jesus' ministry and life's message was entirely focused on this Kingdom of God - the ideal realm of Heaven that Jesus said should be made a reality here, "on earth, as it is in Heaven" (Matt. 6:10.) That this is a spiritual and not a literal, temporal one is also clear from his own words (John 18:36.)
It's a Kingdom in which he called people to be righteous, merciful, and complete ("perfect") just as God is (Matt. 5:20, 5:48, Luke 6:36) and just as Jesus - whom God chose as his spokesman - modeled for us with the example of his selfless life and death (John 13:15; 1 John 2:6.)
Jesus said we should seek to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit those in prison, and comfort the widow and orphan. (Matt. 25)
And he made it clear that we should spread this Kingdom far and wide:
"Go therefore, and teach all nations...Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." (Mt 28:19,20)
"If you love me," he said, "you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15)
It's abundantly obvious why we don't hear much of this Gospel of Jesus from pulpits. It's because it is hard, it calls us to perform Good Works, and it calls us to deny ourselves and serve others. In short, it challenges us to get up out of the pews and ACT in the world. Few want to hear that message on a lazy Sunday morning.
But if we read his words, and take them seriously (and if we wish to claim him as our Master, whom we say we love) we must admit that Jesus makes demands on those who say they follow him. And we're called to act on his commandments.
He calls us to ACTIVELY deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and to follow his teachings, daily in the service of others. (Luke 9:23)
This Gospel of Jesus - this "Good News" - is shocking to our ears because we are used to things being FREE, and EASY.
But our God knows the human heart, and commissioned Jesus at his baptism to be our Examplar and Guide in all things. (Luke 3:22)
God knows that we are capable of doing what he wants us to do, and He knows that the effort will bring us joy.
Jesus models for us the perfect man, the man in whom God said was "well pleased." And Jesus tells us we are capable of all that God asks of us, through Jesus' teachings and life lessons.
He tells us that we must be "perfect, as our Father in Heaven is perfect," (Matt. 5:48) meaning that we can attain a degree of the moral perfection of God. Likewise, he tells us we must be "merciful, as your Father in Heaven is merciful." (Luke 6:36)
In short, he tells us that the Gospel is a challenge - a challenge to become the human beings that God created us to be, and knows that we can become.
God knows that we respond well to challenge and adversity, and that we can overcome it. He says sin may be crouching at the door, but we MUST overcome it. (Gen. 4:7) God says the Moral Law of Moses is "not too hard for you," and that it is "is in your mouth and in your heart, SO THAT YOU CAN DO IT." (Deut. 30:11, 14)
Isaiah says God has no doubt that human beings can, "cease to do evil, and learn to do good." (1:16)
James, the brother of Jesus, notes that adversity perfects us. "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of various kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces endurance." (James 1:17)
Jesus promises that, "The one who perseveres to the end will be saved.' (Matt. 10:22) and "by your patient endurance, you will gain your souls." (Luke 21:19)
"If you know these things (his teachings)" says Jesus, "Blessed are you if you do them." (John 13:17)
This God-given human ability is often never revealed by preachers because there is a lot riding on the idea that we are incapable of doing what God asks. But if we aren't, then God asks the impossible.
But again, God knows our heart, and knows that we become like Jesus when we act on his commands. And we spread the joy of Jesus and the Kingdom when we serve others.
Jesus said he "came not to be served, but to serve." (Matt. 20:28.) And he calls us, like the Good Samaritan who served the stranger, to "Go, and do likewise." (Luke 10:37)
Jesus' words ring true today because they speak to longings of the human heart. He understood that when we treat others as we wish to be treated, our spirits become fuller and more complete and the needs of others are fulfilled as well. We lay up treasure in Heaven when we do Good for others. (Matt. 6:19-21)
It's also doing the work of spreading God's Kingdom, and that's the mission to which he calls us to joyfully join. Are we ready to take his words and mission seriously?
Sunday, July 26, 2020
For we can never enter upon the path of virtue unless we have hope as our guide and companion and if every effort expended in seeking something is nullified in effect by despair of ever finding it.
Moreover, the God of Justice wished us to be free to act and not under compulsion; it was for this reason that “He left him free to make his own decisions” and set before him life and death, good and evil, and he shall be given whatever pleases him.
It was because God wished to bestow on the rational creature the gift of doing good of his own free will and the capacity to exercise free choice, by implanting in man the possibility of choosing either alternative, that he made it his peculiar right to be what he wanted to be, so that with his capacity for good and evil he could do either quite naturally and then bend his will in the other direction too.
He could not claim to possess the good of his own will, unless he were the kind of creature who could also have possessed evil.
Our most excellent creator wished us to be able to do good, which he also commanded, giving us the capacity to do evil only so that we might do his will by exercising our own.
That being so, this very capacity to do evil is also good - good, because it makes the good part better by making it voluntary and independent, not bound by necessity but free to decide for itself.
We are certainly permitted to choose, oppose, approve, reject, and there is no ground for preferring the rational creature to the others except that, while all the others possess only the good derived from their own circumstances and necessity, it alone possesses the good of free will also.
But most of those who, from lack of faith as much as of knowledge, deplore the status of man, are criticizing God's work and asserting that we ought to have been so made that we could do no evil at all.
And these most shameless of men, while hiding the fact that they are managing quite well with what they have been made, would prefer to have been made otherwise; and so those who are unwilling to correct their own way of life appear to want to correct nature itself instead, the good of which has been so universally established in all that it sometimes reveals itself and brings itself to notice even in pagans who do not worship God.
For how many of the pagan philosophers have we heard and read and even seen for ourselves to be chaste, tolerant, temperate, generous, abstinent and kindly, rejecters of the world's honors as well as its delights, lovers of justice no less than knowledge? Where, I ask you, do these good qualities pleasing to God come to men who are strangers to him? Where can these good qualities come to them, unless it be from the good of their human nature?
If even people without God can show what kind of creatures they were made by God, consider what Christians are able to do, whose nature and life have been instructed for the better by Jesus?
No labor ought to seem too difficult, no time too long to wait, when the prize at stake is nothing less than everlasting glory.
(Adapted from “A Letter to Demetrias” by the monk Pelagius, AD 413)
Sunday, July 19, 2020
Anxiety and people's overall mental well-being are prime concerns for many, as they are home, quarantined, either alone, or with others in close proximity who, frankly, are just as anxious as they are.
But how does our teacher, Jesus, instruct us to handle our anxiety? The question is part of the answer, because we have to see Jesus as a teacher and our master, not as a mere "psychological crutch" or as someone who simply is an "easy fix" for our problems and feelings (as in: "Give it over to Jesus.")
He is just that for many millions - a psychological crutch - which means that other crutches, such as drugs or alcohol, sex, escapism or emotional "highs," are seen as just as easy and sometimes more present substitutes. Of course they aren't, and Jesus shouldn't be filling that role, either.
No, we have to view Jesus as both teacher and master ("lord") in order to find the answers, and we of course do that in his words and teachings, which form the entirety of the Gospel he preached.
Jesus in fact spoke directly about being anxious, saying to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? ... Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all." (Matt. 6:25-31)
Some may say, "That's all well and good, but my life has real problems. Unlike birds, if I don't work, I can't pay bills or put food on the table."
But that misses the point. Jesus often speaks in metaphor, parable, and (in some aspect) exaggeration, such as when he says to pluck out your eye rather than sin by lusting. That's not to say he doesn't mean what he's saying. It means we have to understand what lesson he's teaching, and what methods he's using.
His original call to the disciples was to immediately follow him. They left their jobs to walk with him ... IMMEDIATELY. That doesn't mean Jesus hates working for a living. His father, Joseph, taught him a trade of carpentry, and he likely worked into adulthood in that field, helping to feed his brothers and sisters.
No, Jesus is teaching here that we need to put material things into PERSPECTIVE, and that will relieve our anxiety. The previous verse before this passage was the oft-quoted, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." (Matt. 6:24)
As we recently explored, Jesus doesn't hate money, either, he just tells us to put it into perspective, and not idolize it. ("One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” he is quoted as saying in the Book of Luke, 12:15)
In the same way, we ought not become overly ANXIOUS about our clothes (are they good enough to impress our neighbors?) our food (are we eating at the 'right' bistro?) or the latest energy drink we're seen drinking. That, as Jesus says, is what the Gentiles (non-followers of Jesus) are doing.
WE, on the other hand, are called by Jesus to tread a higher path - to channel our anxiety towards positive, Godly outlets. He calls us to put our efforts into serving others, doing good, setting an example of the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus calls us to seek to enter RIGHT NOW, here, among others. We can't do that if we have excess anxiety about material things, or if we're obsessing about our lack of them in our lives.
And our service to others is part of the plan. By treating our neighbors EXACTLY as we would wish to be treated, and by ensuring that they are fed, clothed, housed, and comforted, God is indeed providing, through us, his children.
It is our mission to comfort the anxiety and fears of our neighbors, reassuring them, providing for their needs, and relieving their stresses in this stressful time.
And yes, we need to seek out work, pay the bills, and do what responsible citizens should do, even in these times of quarantine. But we have to realize that if we take Jesus' lessons to heart, and not worry artificially about things that don't matter, all the while seeking to serve others, we will be better off, have far less anxiety, and live in the comfort of the salvation Jesus is unfolding to us through his teachings.