Sunday, May 31, 2020

We Are Here To Do Great Things! #JesusFollowers


Why are we here on the earth? What is our purpose in this life? For millions, these questions haunt their existence and trouble their souls. But there is a Way we can follow that answers these questions.

For those who call Jesus their Master, and seek to follow him and his path, the answers come easier.

WHAT should we do with our lives? Jesus tells us that we're here to love God and love others, and serve God and serve others, and do so with all of our strength.

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)

HOW do we do this? We can begin by doing it by committing ourselves and then... by actually starting to do what God calls us to do by following the example of His chosen Son, Jesus. By Repenting - committing to that kind of change, and asking God for forgiveness for past misdeeds and lack of love we've shown - that starts this process.

This LOVE - Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves - isn't the same weak "love" we use to tell others that we "love" chocolate, or salsa. It's a deep, complicated love, and it will take a lifetime to perfect.

A final question is CAN we do this? This level of service and love, for some, doesn't come easy. But we can be assured that we have the ability within us to do what is right and what is good because God says we can do it, and created us with the ability to do all that He asks of us.

We can find verification of God's expectations for humanity by looking to the Hebrew Scriptures.

God told Adam, the proverbial first man, that he could do what was right. He later told Adam's son, Cain, that he could do what was right, too, if he chose to do so.

Both Adam and Cain had the inborn freedom to choose. The fact that in these cases they both chose to do what was wrong with their choice means they, alone, were punished for it.

Perhaps that is why these stories were included in the Hebrew Bible, so we would know that we had a true choice.

In Deuteronomy, we learn that God assures human beings that His commandments are, "not too hard for you," and that God's moral law is "is in your mouth and in your heart, SO THAT YOU CAN DO IT." (Deut. 30:11, 14) Isaiah writes, "Wash yourselves, make yourself clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes." Isaiah say God has no doubt that human beings can, "cease to do evil, and learn to do good." (1:16)

And many have read the verse in Joshua, in which he says, "choose this day whom you will serve," (Joshua 24:15) The choice remains with us to choose to serve God.

Jesus is completely consistent with the Hebrew Bible in his belief in our ability to do what God asks.

Our Teacher and Master said he did all things that pleased God (John 8:28). He also said we could do all that he did, telling us that we are to be "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (John 14:12, Matt. 5:48)

Jesus has high expectations for us, and leaves us no indication that he was joking when he said we could achieve what he, himself achieved.

If we need courage and encouragement to serve others, we should start by reflecting on the gifts we've been given by God, our Creator, including the inspiring, perfect moral life of Jesus, and seek to follow that path perfectly, seeking God's forgiveness when we stumble or fall short.

Jesus taught that if we call him our Master, we must seek to follow him, doing all that he had done. (John 13:15; 1 John 2:4-6) Based on his teachings, we definitely have the ability to do great good, if we choose to take up his path and seek to do Righteousness, as he did. It's the choosing that can be hard sometimes, and we will stumble in our efforts, but that does not diminish our ability to do the good, which is God-given.

Just as Jesus frequently did, we may call upon God in prayer for further strength, and be assured that we may obtain it. As James, his brother, wrote, we can always seek greater wisdom from God. (James 1:5)

So, Jesus said we were able to do what was right. He believed that God gave us the ability to stand tall before Him, with willing hands to serve others and bring forth God's Kingdom here on earth.

It only remains for us to pick up the challenge Jesus lays down for us, and begin doing this in his name.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Our Life Is a Constant Call to Good Works! #JesusFollowers


We are sent into Life, not to sit still only, or to take a vacation here, but to work and be industrious, in order to be useful in it. 

For, if we are sent here by a Being of infinite Wisdom, our errand, we may be sure, must not only be worthy of His own Perfections, but suited to the Powers He has given us, and the situation in which He has placed us.

We cannot imagine that He should intend us to be the only idle, unserviceable parts of His creation, must less can we suppose Him, after preparing our bodies admirably fitted for action and use, to leave us at liberty to apply these exquisite pieces of workmanship either to no use, or even worse than no use.

Least of all would He have taught us more than the beasts of  the earth, and made us wiser than the fouls of Heaven, so that such superior endowments would be lost in an insignificant round of sitting down to eat and to drink, then rising up to play.

We are not, therefore, our own. We received our existence from God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, and on Him we depend. He, who entrusts us with this and all our talents, will assuredly one day reckon with us for our use of them. 

Our whole frame and constitution, that freedom of Agency, with which we feel ourselves endued, that progressive state of which we are conscious, that apprehension we naturally have as a superior Observer, above all, the notices given us by our Judge Himself, in short, all things conspire in proclaiming that we must give an account for ourselves to Him Who sent us.

In the Evening of a life spent in doing his LORD's Will, with that serenity may the faithful Servant wait for His coming! In constant readiness to open to Him immediately, and in humble confidence that his reward is with Him.

We serve a Master by whom well-meaning Merit (and with Him sincere endeavors are accepted for Merit) shall not be forgotten; and in whose Work, if we are only steadfast and unmovable and to the best of our Abilities always abounding, our Labor shall not be in vain.

Let us work our work, and in His time He, by whom we are employed, will assuredly give us our full Reward.

I have only to add, what must not be omitted in treating this Subject, that our own Strength is small. But so far should the foregoing reflection be from damping our resolution, or excusing our inactivity, that it is at once a most awful and most animating incitement to work out our own Salvation with fear and trembling.

We are exhorted to walk as He walked: If, in particular, He has by His meekness in suffering left us an Example: Well may we encourage one another to follow His steps, who went about Doing Good, working the works of Him that has sent us also.

- Adapted from a sermon given at Oxford University by Dr. George Fothergill, "The Condition of Man's Life a Constant Call to Industry," June 19, 1757

Sunday, May 17, 2020

In The Teachings And Life Of #Jesus, We Find The Joy Of God! #JesusFollowers


Every holy principle rejoices in a connection with spotless purity. Every grateful sentiment is stirred by recollecting the labors of redeeming love; every generous affection is roused by the mildness of his yoke; and every hope is animated by the prospect of that life and immortality which Jesus has brought to light.

This joy, it is evident, can only be tasted by the consistent, faithful, practical believer. The friends of Jesus will possess the joys of Jesus; but the friends of Jesus are those who do his commandments.

This is his own account of the matter, and therefore, when we lay this down as a rule, we are sure that we are right, for we are only repeating what he, himself has said.

We are called to study the attributes of God; the relations in which He stands towards us, and those duties which, in consequence, we owe to Him. We are to make ourselves acquainted with the divine authority, the pure doctrines, the holy precepts, and the perfect character of the blessed Jesus. This is the knowledge which will make us wise unto salvation.

Knowledge without virtue will do us no good. In the divine administration, which is wisdom and benevolence in action, we behold means and ends invariably suited to each other. Holiness is the great mean of real and lasting happiness.

If to grow in the likeness of our divine Master is the only preparation for the happiness he has promised, an unwearied attention to his precepts and example is strongly impressed upon us. 

We must be active, vigilant, and persevering. Prejudices must be eradicated, passions must be governed, appetites and inclinations to evil resolutely restrained.

The heart and the life must be kept with all diligence, if the prize of our high calling is to be made sure.

Jesus shows us that God is love, the original spring of happiness, and that the grand end he proposes, in the production of man, is the communication and extension of happiness. He shows us that no situation of human life can warrant a fretful and despondent attitude; but that, in. all cases, we may, and, in justice to our great benefactor, ought to encourage a cheerful, and even a joyful attitude.

Let us look for strength where alone it is to be found. Seek for salvation only in that way which the Gospel prescribes. Go directly to the narrow gate. Depend upon it that in no other way redemption can be found. Consult your reason. Make a worthy and noble choice. Aim high. Ambition here is a virtue.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Edmund Butcher, 1805)

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Jesus’ Religion Is Meant To Be Lived! #JesusFollowers


Christianity is not a mere code of laws, not an abstract system such as theologians frame. It is a living, embodied religion. It comes to us in a human form. It offers itself to our eyes as well as ears; it breathes, it moves in our sight. It is more than precept, it is example and action.

The importance of example, who does not understand? How much do most of us suffer from the presence, conversation, spirit of men of low minds by whom we are surrounded!

The temptation is strong to take as our standard the average character of the society in which we live, and to satisfy ourselves with decencies and attainments which secure to us among the multitude the name of respectable men.

On the other hand, there is a power (have you not felt it?) in the presence, conversation, and example of a person of strong principle and magnanimity, to lift us, at least for the moment, from our vulgar and tame habits of thought, and to kindle some generous aspirations after the excellence which we were made to attain.

I hardly need say to you that it is impossible to place ourselves under any influence of this nature so inspiring as the example of Jesus. 

This introduces us to the highest order of virtues. This is fitted to awaken the whole mind.

Nothing has equal power to neutralize the coarse, selfish, and sensual influences amidst which we are plunged, to refine our conception of duty, and to reveal to us the perfection on which our hopes and most strenuous desires should habitually fasten.

There is one cause which has done much to defeat this good influence of Jesus’ character and example, and which ought to be exposed. It is this. Multitudes - I am afraid great multitudes - think of Jesus as a being to be admired rather than approached.

They have some vague conceptions of a glory in his nature and character which makes it presumption to think of proposing him as their standard. He is thrown so far from them that he does them little good. 

Many feel that a close resemblance of Jesus is not to be expected; that this, like many other topics, may serve for declamation in the pulpit, but is utterly incapable of being reduced to practice.

This is an error which exerts a blighting influence on not a few minds.

Until men think of the religion and character of Jesus as truly applicable to them, as intended to be brought into continual operation, as what they must incorporate with their whole spiritual nature, they will derive little good from Jesus. 

Men think, indeed, to honor Jesus when they place him so high as to discourage all effort to approach him. They really degrade him.

They do not understand his character; they throw a glare over it which hides its true features. This vague admiration is the poorest tribute which they can pay him.

(From “The Imitableness of Christ’s Character” by Rev. William Ellery Channing, in “Works” Vol. IV, 1888)

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Our Ability and Duty To Do Good Are Both God-Given #JesusFollowers


God does not oblige us to anything that is either impossible or unreasonable. Consequently, there must be some ways we may distinguish Divine Revelation from all pretenses to it.

His evidences are not irresistible, and God, having made us free Agents, can’t be supposed to destroy His own work; they are sufficient to convince all reasonable Persons who examine them as the weight of their truth.

For what is it that God requires of us? No very hard task, one would think, for it is only a sincere and constant endeavor after our own Perfection.

God has made us Rational and Free Agents, capable of paying a reasonable and voluntary homage to His Majesty, and of enjoying the happy effects of it, He has set before us Good and Evil, Life and Death, and entices us by all the Duty we owe to Him, by all the Gratitude we ought to pay for the most stupendous instance of His Love in our Redemption, and by all the kindness we have for ourselves [to do what is right.]

Was it then unfit for God to adorn His Creation with all imaginable Ranks and Degrees of Being, consequently with Free Agents which is a very noble Order?

Now the difference between a Free and a Necessary Agent consists in this: The Actions of the former, or more properly the Motions of his Mind, are in his own power. He has Ability, as every one of us is aware, to determine them this way or that, according to his own pleasure, and as he is affected b the supposed agreeableness of the objects he pursues. This power or faculty is what we call Liberty, which distinguishes a Free from a Necessary Agent, for this last type does not determine for itself, has no command over its own motions, but is absolutely governed by a foreign cause.

But in whatever Degree of Being a Creature is placed, whether it is a Free or a Necessary Agent, there must be a certain measure of Perfection belonging to its Rank, which it cannot attain but by some certain and stated Progressions or Methods, suitable to the Nature that God has given it, and in the same manner as a Seed becomes a Plant, or a Plant a Tree. Some actions therefore do naturally and necessarily tend to the Perfection of Mankind, and others as naturally and necessarily drag us down into Misery.

If then you will allow that God may create Free Agents, and where I pray is the Injustice of it? Since it can’t be supposed that He lays irresistible restraints upon us, or gives them irresistible impulses, which were to destroy the Nature He has made, and to contradict Himself, consequently all that can be done for us, even by Infinite Power and Goodness, conducted by Infinite Wisdom, is to lure us to good by the vastness of the Pleasure proposed, and to deter them from Evil by the dread of the Pain of separation that is threatened by God.

If God should deprive us of our Liberty and make us Necessary Agents, that is, make us like other Creatures and not human beings, he who is currently unaffected with the Infinite Goodness and Longsuffering of God (which ought to lead him to Repentance) would continue his Impenitency; he who is Unjust, would remain Unjust; and he who is Filthy, would remain that way. Leaving them therefore in their own mire, and to be punished by their own Folly. Let us consider the Practical Duties of Christianity, that we may Practice as well as Believe, all that is required of us in order to gain our Salvation.

Since, therefore, we desire our own Happiness, and God desires it also, and has done so much, even beyond our Modest hopes, in order to grant it, what can hinder it?

(Adapted from a 1717 book by Mary Astell, “The Christian Religion…”)

Sunday, April 26, 2020

What Can We Change? #JesusFollowers



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 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.

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, and Master, One Whom has sent us a perfect template, and it is through him 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, He and His chosen son, Jesus, 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.

But taking a default “let go” attitude means that we’ve given up on life. 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 also 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, April 19, 2020

Jesus’ High View of Human Nature. #JesusFollowers


Jesus uniformly expressed high views of human nature. It was over the perversion of its gifts, the abuse of its powers, that he mourned; but it seems never to have been his delight to magnify human guilt.

He found something in human nature, even in its humblest or its most distorted developments, worthy of love. You see him gathering around him little children, pressing them to his bosom, speaking kindly to them. He could not look upon the unwrinkled brow, the fair countenance of childhood, and contemplate the child as an object of God’s displeasure.

Look at his interactions with his immediate followers, how perseveringly obstinate was their hold upon long cherished prejudices! How slow were they to enter into his spirit, and to yield themselves to the full power of his instructions! Yet how patiently did he work with them! How kindly did he apologize for their lack of zeal in his cause! True it is, that he fearlessly rebuked sin; but in what spirit did he rebuke it? With the utmost compassion.

We look to the Reformers, who have appeared in different periods of the Christian church. We see in many of them high powers, determined hearts, and persevering efforts, qualities, which claim for them great respect. We see none, however, unbiased by local interests and prejudices.

Jesus stands at an immeasurable distance from them all. W see none, who are actuated by a generous, unmingled love, like that which Jesus manifested.

By the honest friends of Christianity, many devices have been invented and practiced to give power and interest to its instructions. The terrors of the Lord have been proclaimed, in the language of power acting for destruction. The passion of fear has been used without restraint, and all the passions associated with it have been addressed.

The power of party has been tried, and so has that of pomp, of show and of boasting, of forms and ceremonies, of fasts and prayers. But has the power of love been uniformly, and extensively tried?

Has the true spirit of Jesus ever yet been fully exhibited, either by his ministers or his church? I fear that it has not; and that even some good men are most woefully deceived as to the tendency of their own influence.

Here I see, what the spirit of Christ is, what the fruits of his influence are; and I utter in sorrow the deep conviction of my soul that the spirit of pure love, as it appeared in the teachings of Jesus, is not found extensively abroad for the reformation of the world.

Without this spirit, zeal may work with all the power of passion, sect after sect may put forth its rival claims, and missionaries may travel the globe; but the world will continue to writhe under the tortures of sin, and souls will continue to perish.

(Adapted from a Christmas Sermon by Rev. Nathan Parker, 1831)

Sunday, April 12, 2020

#Jesus’ Death: An Example of Perfect Obedience #JesusFollowers


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

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

In his Sermon on the Mount, he reflects the character of a practical preacher.

He taught that to do the will of God, and seek to be like Him, is the only way to gain admittance into his kingdom, that the condition of forgiveness is our forgiving others, and that the man who hears his sayings and does them builds on a good foundation. (See Matt. 5, 6 & 7)

He taught that men will be accepted or rejected according to the use they make of the talents entrusted to their care; that when brought to judgment, they will be received to glory, or doomed to punishment, according to their works (Chapter 25).

Throughout his ministry he taught men to expect salvation, and every blessing, on the ground of the love, mercy and favor of God, solely on the terms of repentance and obedience to the Gospel. 

He represented God as accepting penitent sinners, on the ground of his free mercy, just as a compassionate father would his offending child when he saw him turn from his folly. (Luke 15:11-32)

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

We therefore have redemption in Jesus as we have it in his Gospel: he came and revealed it, he lost his life in making it known, he is appointed by the Father to dispense it, and we enjoy it so long as we conform to his teaching and example, so that we should not henceforth live to ourselves, in the gratification of our passions and desires, but to him, in obedience to his Gospel, and in the imitation of his example – especially of that generous love which he manifested in laying down his life for the good of men. (John 15:13)

Jesus showed no cowardice in his suffering. Throughout, with firmness, he resigned himself to the will of his Father. (Luke 22:42) Had his feelings of pain and sorrow been less exquisite, his piety, his virtue, his patience had been less perfect, had he not felt so deeply, he would have been less suited to be our example in bearing suffering.

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

Had he not perfectly obeyed he could not have been an example of perfect obedience. But now by his death, his character is perfected, his qualifications are completed, his testimony is finished, his obedience is tried and, found perfect, he received a glorious reward, and we have a suitable and perfect example of every excellence attainable by us.

(Adapted from the writings of Rev. Noah Worcester, 1805)

Sunday, April 5, 2020

In A Time Of Pandemic, Let's Look Back To The Words Of Jesus And God's Love! #Jesus Followers

People are scared. The Coronavirus, which has spread across the world and has claimed many lives, is scary because it is completely new to the world, and we don't know how dangerous it will ultimately be. Everywhere, people are turning to Faith for answers and for comfort. What are they finding?

When the world is closing down all around us, and changing rapidly and sometimes without meaning or purpose, it's natural that we should look to God, our unchanging, eternal Father, and look to each other, for comfort and strength. And this is just as God wishes it to be.

God assures us that He will grant us comfort, strength and peace in times of tragedy and times of struggle, confusion, and pain. And calls us to deeply love Him and to also love and serve our neighbors. (Matt. 12:30-31)

Many turn in difficult times to the comfort of the Twenty-third Psalm, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."

God granted us great strength and abilities when we were born, and when we ask in prayer, grants us the added grace, wisdom, and strength to endure great times of trial.

We must at this time of crisis look to answers consistent with the one we claim to call our Master. The trouble is, there are many voices out there misrepresenting Jesus, often ignoring the very words and teachings of this Master.

The faith that Jesus gave us does not allow us to blame ourselves or our past sins for diseases and epidemics; it does not allow us to blame groups that we don't like, and it does not allow us to blame God for "sending" such things to us.

God "shows no partiality and accepts no bribes." (Deut. 10:17) and we know that God is not in the storms, the winds, or the earthquakes (1 Kings 19:11-13.)

Jesus tells us that God makes the sun, "rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matt. 5:45.) Our God, therefore, is not a mere angry "storm deity" who sends weather and viruses to punish us. We must reject those trying to sell this version of the Gospel to us.

Jesus assures us that God is our Eternal Father, Who loves us so much that he chose Jesus as His son and Spokesman at his baptism, and sent him out with a mission to preach a Good and Beneficial Message (Gospel) of the Kingdom of God. (Matt. 6:9; John 3:16; Luke 3:22; 4:43; Matthew 28:20)

It is Jesus' teachings, not man's teachings and doctrines, that provide that Message, that Gospel, and gives us our comfort and support. It is to Jesus and to him alone whom we must make our Teacher and Master.

On a Sunday when Christendom's churches are closed due to the outbreak, let's take this opportunity to look back to the actual words of Jesus, our Master, for guidance. Let us use the isolation we may be forced to endure in the coming weeks to re-read the VERY WORDS AND TEACHINGS that Jesus said we would obey if we claimed to follow and love him. (John 14:15)

Jesus' Teachings alone are the light that will get us through in times of darkness.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

What Did #Jesus Teach About Using Wealth Wisely? [#JesusFollowers]



Jesus never lost an opportunity to teach a moral lesson; so he illustrated the subject of riches with a parable.

A certain rich man's ground brought forth such abundant crops, that he could only get them safely housed by pulling down all his old barns and building larger ones.

When this was done, and he saw his large stores which would provide for every contingency for many years, he resolved to begin to enjoy himself. He had now succeeded in attaining that for which he had labored many years, and for which he had likely denied himself every luxury, and had perhaps also oppressed the laboring poor who worked under him.

He had lived until then as if this world were all there is, and there was no hereafter, as if this world and its goods were for him alone, and as if he had no interest in the distresses of his neighbors, whom his helping hand might perhaps have saved.

Little did he know he was not to live to enjoy those accumulated stores; for God gave forth the fiat, "This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" (Luke 12:20)

This parable had a double reference. It not only strongly illustrated the folly of being covetous of worldly riches, seeing we might never be spared to enjoy them; but it also served as the connecting link between what he had previously said as to men being only able to kill the body, while God was able to punish the soul in hell-fires, and what he immediately discoursed on afterwards, namely, the necessity of providing for the future life more even than for this.

Our Savior's conclusion, therefore, to this parable, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God," (Luke 12:21) naturally led him to discourse on the necessity of seeking first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, when all things we have need of here will be added to us.

Some men's love for riches is such, that they will leave no means untried to gain them, however dishonorable these means may be. These men, therefore, forsake the paths of honesty, and ruin their own souls to secure that perishing dust which they cannot carry with them out of this world.

Riches render such men proud and uncharitable, and shut out every holy feeling. They think their riches can buy everything, but it can neither purchase the favor of God nor the respect of their fellow-men.

How true, then, was the saying of Jesus regarding such men, “ “How difficult it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!" (Luke 18:24) And the reason for this is fully apparent; for "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:34)

If, therefore, your treasure is on earth, and is composed of earthly things, earthly thoughts alone will occupy your mind, and leave no time, no thought, no leisure for God or heavenly things.

Our Father in heaven is a merciful and gracious God; but he is also just, and shall reward every man according to his works. (Psalm 62:12) 

It is therefore every person's duty and interest to live in preparation for eternity, as we do not know how soon our lives shall end. No one is sure of their life even for a day. The thousand accidents that may cut us off, we see exemplified in our friends and brethren around us. Those whom we saw in full vigor in the morning, are often seen cut off before the evening.

God will judge the world of mankind at the last day.

That is a momentous subject to us all, and is one on which we ought to have clear notions, or else we might commit the most egregious of blunders, and deceive ourselves with the belief that it is all well with us, when we are in reality slaves to evildoing.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

How Should We Treat Our Enemies? [#JesusFollowers]


"But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matt. 5:44-45)

The remarkable passage may lead us to inquire to what extent Christianity enjoins forbearance, under injuries and insults of every kind and degree? Although the language of the New Testament, on this topic, here and elsewhere, is so explicit, yet there are many who think proper to put such a construction upon it, as to abate much of its force.

If we may judge from the history of Christian nations so called, yes, and Christian denominations, too, long suffering is a grace they have very rarely thought fit to exercise, whenever they have deemed it practicable to retaliate their wrongs.

Who would infer, from the conduct of Christians generally, that we are forbidden by our master ever to return evil for evil? "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" is the maxim, by which too many govern themselves, though they profess to be followers of the humble Jesus. Retaliation, in one way or another, is still a matter of course in most instances, where an injury or insult has been received. The quarrels of greater or less magnitude, in which individuals, families, neighborhoods, parties and sects are often embroiled, sustain the assertion.

Indeed, Christians in general, so far from showing a due regard to the specific precepts of their master, openly maintain that retaliation is in many instances not entirely lawful, but commendable, yea, necessary. “What, say they," “love our enemies! bless them that curse us! do good to them that hate us! Our Creator instead gave us a passion of resentment, which would be of no use, if we are to obey these precepts of our Lord literally."

Somewhat in this manner Christians (yes, even some teachers of Christianity) argue respecting these precepts of Jesus. They seem to think the conclusion to be inevitable, that a considerable change must be made from the literal meaning of our Lord's language - that there must be some way of qualifying the injunctions he has given, so that they may be more in line with the customs of society, with what is alleged to be the nature of humanity.

But not only the exceeding plainness of the words in the text, but how frequently the same precepts are elsewhere inculcated by the author of our faith, and reiterated by his apostles; I confess it seems to me, that it becomes us to be very cautious how we venture to take aught from them.

Something may indeed be said, to show, that we cannot feel the same kind of love for our enemies, as for our friends. There are degrees in our attachment even to those, who may be equally friendly to us; so, very naturally, there will be a still wider difference in our regard for those, who have proved themselves inimical.

But the most essential part of love, that is, kind treatment, we may show even towards these; and our religion expressly enjoins it upon us to do so.

We may not cherish any malevolence towards an enemy; but ought to hold ourselves in readiness, at any moment, to do them a favor, to give and receive from him the common kindnesses of life, in the hope that we shall thus overcome evil with good - change their feelings towards us - and melt the hardness of their hearts.

Did the founder of the religion of Christendom, or any of his accredited ministers, any where intimate, that these precepts were to be obeyed in their full import only for a certain time; and that so soon as the followers of Jesus became numerous on earth, and powerful by reason of their numbers, they might relax their forbearance under injuries, and avenge themselves?

Certain it is that the author of Christianity, and those preachers who were instructed immediately by him, enjoined a measure of abstinence from resentment, never before thought of by any other teachers of religion.

It is certain also that the first converts they made, and indeed the members of Christ's Church for more than two hundred years, clearly understood the precepts of the Gospel.

Unless, therefore, from the same authority who commanded them, we can find some warrant for changing the force of his precepts, it seems that it would be high presumption in the teachers of Christianity, of this or any other age, to sanction the avenging of injuries, or the indulgence of resentful passions, in any measure, under any circumstances.

And what part of Jesus' character has gained for him so much admiration as his long suffering and kindness under injury? If he had acted towards his enemies, as many of his professed disciples, at the present day, insist that it would be right for them to act towards their enemies, would not the brightest illustration of the divinity of his character have been lacking? Wouldn't the internal evidence of his Faith be much less than it now is?

That this teaching of Jesus' is to be considered a necessary part of his conduct, we may infer from the fact that the Disciples did the same as he did, in deference to his example.

If we would be the faithful followers of the Son of God, and help to advance the cause of Righteousness, Peace and Joy, we too must repress our resentful feelings—never give way to anger - never withhold kindness even from those, who have done us the greatest injuries.

Such temperament, such a demeanor, would not only prove us to be the true disciples of Jesus,and the true children of our heavenly Father; but would most assuredly make our foes our friends. For love is irresistible.

(Adapted from a sermon by Samuel J. May, ca 1830)

Sunday, March 15, 2020

In Times Of Pandemic, Let's Look Back To The Words Of Jesus And God's Love! #Jesus Followers

People are scared. The Coronavirus, which has spread across the world, has already begun to claim lives, is scary because it is completely new to the world, and we don't know how dangerous it will ultimately be. Everywhere, people are turning to Faith for answers and for comfort. What are they funding?

When the world seems to be closing down all around us, and changing rapidly and sometimes without meaning or purpose, it's natural that we should look to God, our eternal Father, and look to each other, for comfort and strength. And this is just as God wishes it to be.

God assures us that He will grant us comfort, strength and peace in times of tragedy and times of struggle, confusion, and pain. And calls us to deeply love Him and to also love and serve our neighbors. (Matt. 12:30-31)

Many turn in difficult times to the comfort of the Twenty-third Psalm, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."

God granted us great strength and abilities when we were born, and when we ask in prayer, grants us the added grace, wisdom, and strength to endure great times of trial.

We must at this time of crisis look to answers consistent with the one we claim to call our Master. The trouble is, there are many voices out there misrepresenting Jesus, often ignoring the very words and teachings of this Master.

The faith that Jesus gave us does not allow us to blame ourselves or our past sins for diseases and epidemics; it does not allow us to blame groups that we don't like, and it does not allow us to blame God for "sending" such things to us.

God "shows no partiality and accepts no bribes." (Deut. 10:17) and we know that God is not in the storms, the winds, or the earthquakes (1 Kings 19:11-13.) Jesus tells us that God makes the sun, "rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matt. 5:45.) Our God, therefore, is not a mere angry "storm deity" who sends weather and viruses to punish us. We must reject those trying to sell this version of the Gospel to us.

Jesus assures us that God is our Eternal Father, Who loves us so much that he chose Jesus as His son and Spokesman at his baptism, and sent him out with a mission to preach a Good and Beneficial Message (Gospel) of the Kingdom of God. (Matt. 6:9; John 3:16; Luke 3:22; 4:43; Matthew 28:20)

It is Jesus' teachings, not man's teachings and doctrines, that provide that Message, that Gospel, and gives us our comfort and support. It is to Jesus and him alone what we must make our Teacher and Master.

On a Sunday when many churches are closed due to the outbreak, let's take that time to look back to the words of Jesus, our Master, for guidance. Let us use the isolation we may be forced to endure in the coming weeks to re-read the VERY WORDS AND TEACHINGS that Jesus said we would obey if we claimed to follow and love him. (John 14:15)

Jesus' Teachings alone are the light that will get us through in times of darkness.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Human Beings: Created To Advance! [#JesusFollowers]


Improvement is a law of the Universe. All things, great and small, are made to improve and progress. Human beings must not be an exception.

We must not allow everything else to move on, while we remain stationary. When the insensible earth and the irrational animals obey the commandment of Nature, let not us, who alone are capable of voluntary obedience, 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, think 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 spake to the sea, “Thus far shall you go, and no farther,” has spoken to all things terrestrial except us.

From that mandate our spirit is exempted. The tree has its growth, and the bird its instinct, and they can add to themselves nothing beyond it. Human beings, reasoning, immortal, immaterial beings, to whom the inspiration of the Almighty has given understanding, has received the power of expansion. Our souls may grow - not like the body, which is to perish in about a hundred 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 the soul's 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 existence, neither can it approach the termination of its progress. It must enlarge, extend itself, and continue to advance.

So, other creatures may stop growing, and become stationary; for they are to come to an end. But not human beings, for we are to know no end. Others may be satisfied with a perfection which earth can understand and contain; for they are of the earth, and shall return to its bosom.

But human beings are children of the Most High, our spirit a ray from the fountain of unquenchable light, made capable of attainments which earthly beings cannot hardly imagine. 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 would be rebellion against our nature, a willful forfeiting of our birthright, 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 only 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 here below; and ones who have made the greatest advances in these during their mortal lives, are doubtless best fitted for entering into a future state. This thought suggests to us another reason for improvement.

The degree of happiness and glory to which the soul shall be admitted at death, must depend on the progress which it has made on Earth. In our Father's house are many mansions; differing unquestionably in order offense. And how are they to be assigned? What says the Scripture? “According to their works,” for “He that has been faithful in little, shall be placed over few cities; he that has been faithful in much, shall be placed over many cities.” (Luke 16:10; Matt. 25:23)

Happiness and honor shall be rendered to every person according to their preparation for them and their capacity to receive them. And our capacity to receive will be just in proportion to the state of advancement at which we have arrived on leaving the present scene.

And the soul that issues from its mortal tabernacle a trembling, anxious penitent, - just "assured" that its sins are forgiven, but without any confirmed religious experience, or spiritual maturity of character - cannot enter at once into the fulness of bliss which awaits the faithful servant of God, who has toiled for duty during a long life, and become almost spiritualized before laying aside the body.

Therefore let us strive to be found, at our death, so far advanced in holiness, that we may join the company of those who stand nearest to the throne; that we may be ushered into the light of the highest heaven.

(Adapted from a Sermon by Henry Ware, Jr.)

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Talk is Cheap. Walk the Talk. [#JesusFollowers]


Talk is cheap. It’s easy to talk, but hard to work. Human beings naturally incline towards inertia. We like to remain still, to be lazy, to take shortcuts, and to avoid hard work whenever possible. This isn’t to say we cannot overcome this inertia, or that inertia is somehow inevitable. But it’s something we have to recognize in order to overcome it.

This is true not only in our work life, but also of our religious life, because we like to take shortcuts, to avoid work, and to win the race of faith without ever putting our running shoes on – or even getting out of bed, if we can avoid it!

But that’s just not how God has designed religion, if we are to believe Jesus, whose words challenge us to a vigorous faith comprised of Good Works, and promise that these works result in our salvation.

It's cheap (and easy) to say that we need not do Good Works to please God. It’s easy to follow the path leading through what Jesus calls "the Wide Gate" by saying that our behavior is only “extra” stuff that we do for Others – our little crumbs from the table we give to God as “gifts” of grudging gratitude – because (we assure ourselves) we're going to be awarded salvation by God regardless of how we act. 

Good Works, if done at all, are optional on our part, some assert, and if they are done to please God, they’re actually “filthy” and unacceptable in His sight. Thus, we have rationalized practicing a lazy, self-centered religion.

The problem with this line of thinking is that Jesus teaches us just the opposite approach. 

Jesus clearly, and repeatedly, taught that if we claim to follow him, we are saved not by our faith alone, but by OUR WORDS (Matt. 12:37) and will be judged and rewarded in Heaven by OUR DEEDS (Matt. 16:27/2 Cor. 5:10.) Only those who seek to obey God’s Moral Law will see eternal life.

"And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.” (Mark 10:17-19.)

Jesus could have said, “Just have a belief that a deity of some sort exists, and you’ll be instantly awarded eternal life by God.” Instead, he told him, in effect, “You know God, and Know His Law; Now Walk in it – Walk what you Talk.”

It's a very cheap grace indeed (as Bonhoeffer said) - by which we presume to command God to accept a once-in-a-lifetime, emotional confession in His Son as a 'ticket' to eternal life. Jesus says that simply crying out “Lord, Lord!” without doing the Will of the Father is insufficient (Matt. 7:21-27.) We thus cheapen God's offer by treating it cheaply.

Just like simply enrolling in a College doesn't permit us to view ourselves as instant graduates - without any requirement to attend classes or do the required coursework - belief is only a first step in our faith. Simply professing belief, without accompanying it with active Good Works, is not enough (James 2:19.) 

Obeying God’s chosen spokesman, Jesus (John 8:51; 14:23) and abiding in him (John 8:31) and (in the most radical text of the entire New Testament) walking “just as he walked” (1 John 2:6) is what is required.

Jesus always echoed the Hebrew Scriptures regarding God's view of our deeds. The Psalmist records, "For Yahweh is righteous; He loves righteous deeds; the upright shall see His face." (Psalms 11:7) and "Surely the righteous will praise Your name; the upright will dwell in Your presence." (140:

He told us, "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 7:13-14.)

All the while as we walk our spiritual journey of Faith, let us remember that we are to rely constantly and in humility on God's continual forgiveness and His Spirit to guide, strengthen and encourage us, for we aren't presuming to do this on our own, though we are empowered to walk in the steps of our Master, and we are assured that we CAN do it (Deut. 30:11) by seeking to walk in his steps.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

We Are Called to Show God’s Mercy to Others #JesusFollowers


Our God and Father, the God of our Master, Jesus, is a merciful and loving God, who calls us to show mercy to others, and has mercifully chosen Jesus as an example from whom we might learn and follow abundantly here on earth and into eternal life.

As James, the brother of Jesus, assures us, God’s mercy triumphs over judgment, meaning that we can count on God’s mercy when we repent, but cannot simply rest on our mere self-righteous professions of faith to save us, because, “judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment." (James 2:13.)

When we fail to have mercy, and our faith is inactive, we face the judgment of God, and we shall not inherit eternal life, nor is our life here as abundant as God wants it to be for us.

Jesus, the man God chose, adopted and sent to the world to preach a Good and Beneficial message to us about God’s will for our lives, teaches us that “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7) and we are called to, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36.)

Mercy, according to Jesus, is active service to others.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells of a lawyer who came to him and asked “Who may inherit eternal life?” He tells of the men who walked by an injured man on the road and didn't help him, but the Samaritan, whom he called “good,” showed him mercy. He said of that man, “Go and do the same.”

Just as God is merciful and shows mercy, we are commanded to actively do the same. And because we have the example of the man, Jesus, we know we are capable of doing what God asks us.

For James, as with Jesus, being merciful is more than a mental exercise, or mere mental consent to a set of doctrines or propositions – the acceptance of which somehow leads instantly to eternal life.

James reminds us that mercy and active service as an active part of our faith, a requirement of it, as inseparable as our heads are from our hearts.

“Religion that is pure and stainless according to God the Father is this: to take care of orphans and widows who are suffering, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27.)

Jesus has called us to a higher religion – a religion of works and action.

By way of parable, Jesus teaches us that when we serve others, even the least prosperous among us, we serve him and serve God our Father.

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” (Matt 25:35.)

Clearly, Jesus teaches that God will judge both the righteous and the wicked based on their Works (Matt. 16:27; Ecclesiastes 3:17.)

But to those who showed no mercy and did not perform Good Works, but instead practiced lawlessness, God will say, “I never knew you.” and they shall not inherit eternal life, even if they cry Jesus’ name loudly (Matt. 7:21-23.)

The Psalmist says of God, “The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me. With the merciful you show yourself merciful," (Psalm 18:20.)

We are called to go, and do the same.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

What is The Essence Of Christianity? #JesusFollowers


When a man comes out of a dark room into the light, his eyes are dazzled, and he discerns all objects indistinctly, not because there is not light enough, but because there is too much light. When I look back to the early years of Christianity, I see in that bright dawn a few figures, shadows of men like trees walking, and one form in the midst of them like unto the form of the Son of God.

The eyes are dazzled by such a vision, and yet there appears at first little enough for the mind to dwell upon. The records are broken and fragmentary, the details somewhat meager, and the authenticity in some parts thought by many to be more than doubtful.

Then I ask myself "Was Christianity nothing but a dream of the past? Is it nothing but a sentiment in the present?"

The heart, which has longings for something definite and tangible, wants to go up to Jesus, as it were, and touch the hands and the side, and be present at the dark hour in Gethsemane, and feel the crown of thorns, and watch the agony of the Cross, in order that it may be fixed and certified concerning the Son of Man, and know in whom we have believed. "What is Christianity?" is a question which many serious men are asking in the present day.

We must have sadly departed from the simplicity which is in Jesus - we must have somehow got entirely off track, away from the Sermon on the Mount, for instance. I don't think there was any doubt in the minds of those who heard that sermon as to what Christianity really meant, or what Christ really taught.

They did not argue when they heard the words, "Blessed are whose who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled,: and ' Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God," and those were the sort of words which drew thousands after Jesus, and made the common people very attentive to hear Him. The words did not sound vague; they conveyed a definite meaning, quite definite enough for all practical purposes; and doubtless that meaning was the very essence of Christianity.

Many people say, 'There was nothing new in the teaching of Christ; the world had heard it all before." And we should do well to admit what is admissible in such a statement at once, and to the fullest extent. We might perhaps say that there was nothing very new in any one individual precept of Christianity; that, if we knew enough about the religious developments which preceded it, we should find a great deal of Christianity before Christ.

Every petition of the Lord's Prayer, for instance, in the literature that already existed at the coming of Christ. You don't find the very prayer anywhere written down, but you may pick out the several parts of it, or something very like them.

Now just in the same way you don't find Christianity itself in the past religions or philosophies of the world; but you may take out a great many points and arrange them in a certain order, and call that Christianity, and say that the whole of its ethical system was in the world in a sort of fragmentary way, in a sort of general sense, long before Christ came.

But supposing it was, what then? Christianity is not less original, and not less divine, even although there may have been nothing unknown, nothing new in its several parts. People seem to think that originality must always consist of novelty in detail, but it does not. Christianity does not consist of such novelty, yet it is original.

Christ teaches us to carry on the development of our religious feelings, of our infinite aspirations under the influences of Purity and Love—twin stars revolving around each other, making one center of life, out of which springs the development of the world, and the harmonious progress of human society.

The interest of human beings in other human beings, and of God in all human beings, shown by deeds of love, and the irresistible power of a holy life, that is the heart and marrow of Christianity, as it is sketched lightly but firmly by the Master's own hand in the Sermon on the Mount; and that was, and ever must be, the only life, and heat, and radiance which the Christian Church ever had or ever can have.

(Adapted from an 1870 sermon by Rev. Hugh Reginald Haweis 1836-1901)

Sunday, February 9, 2020

What Is Love? #JesusFollowers


What Is Love? Love is one of those words in the English language that can be easily confused. Love can mean a strong attachment to pancakes or pickles, a deep emotional attachment to another person like a spouse, parent or neighbor, it can express a deep “fan” relationship with a movie franchise like Star Wars, or it can mean lust for a drug, a person, an object, or a stranger.

This imprecise definition didn’t exist in the oldest manuscripts of the words of our Master, Jesus, which were preserved in Greek. 

Love most often was conveyed with a word, agape [agapaō] which means a pure, all-consuming love. 

It’s this word that is used when Jesus calls us to, "Love Yahweh, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." And, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

It was not limited to our friends, or to those who love us, because it’s agape that is used when Jesus says “Love your enemies.” (Matt. 5:43)

The Fourth Gospel records, “For God so loved the world,” using that same word, agape, showing that God has deep, abiding and unlimited love for us. God chose and sent out Jesus as our special example to us, so that we might not live in darkness, but in light.

But it’s not just God than can show this love, however. We are called by Jesus to “Love one another; JUST as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)

The fact that we are to love “JUST AS I HAVE LOVED YOU” is a powerful calling to us. We are told by Jesus that we may indeed love just as he loved; act just as he acted; serve just as he served. Our love is to have no bounds, just as Jesus’ love had no bounds.

This is all important to understand, given the many misconceptions about “love” – even among those who attend the churches of Christendom today – and even among those who do not.

"Love" having so many meanings, many today believe the love we are called to show is the shallow love we have for food, movies and other things with which we have a strong emotional attachment.

It would be a serious mistake, however, to assume that ALL we must do is express a light, shallow Love towards God and towards others. "Love is All You Need" is the name of an awesome Beatles song about emotional attachment between two lovers, not the imperative that Jesus calls us to embrace.

The Power of Love, the kind of Love that God shows us through His son, Jesus, is the kind of Love that is deep, unattached to emotions. It’s not an erotic love, or a shallow love, or a "love" that has no meaning or caring behind it, but it is instead the deepest and most pure Love there is. 

This kind of Love must be the cornerstone of our faith. Love of God and love of our neighbors is what Jesus calls us to actively show in our daily lives.

The faith that Jesus teaches challenges us to love God so much that we love others just as God does, and show it by doing Good Works in the service of others.

And we are called to love and obey God and serve others, using Jesus' perfect example as our guide, and then we are to accept that GOD ALONE is our judge, and our God is a God of mercy, if we ask for it.

"Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me." (John 14:21)

"If you keep my commandments," says Jesus, "you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love." (John 15:10)

Sunday, February 2, 2020

We Possess The God-Given Gift of Reason #JesusFollowers


All of us are born with the God-given gift of Reason, the ability to think, analyze and question, and we are called to use that for the glory of God, the advancement of His spiritual Kingdom, and for the benefit of those around us.

Reason and Faith are not opposed to one another, but are instead 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 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.

The Book of Proverbs begins with a beautiful poem praising wisdom, understanding, Reason and knowledge:

"To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth  - Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Prov. 1:2-7)

God has created us as thinking beings, capable of perceiving, learning, growing, and expanding in knowledge and great understanding.

By use of Reason, we can either choose to understand the words God and His spokesman, Jesus, sends us for our own benefit, or choose freely to HATE knowledge, wisdom and reproof, turning our backs on God and those whom He sent us. We will "eat the fruits of our way" if we do so, however (Prov. 1:29-31) and will be judged according to our Works.

Jesus tells us the greatest commandment is to, "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matt. 22:37.) Loving with our hearts and our very being (our Souls, our psyche) is one thing, but we are called also to use our MINDS - our understanding and our knowledge. These are not dirty words that spit upon faith, and our God does not diminish them at all, nor does his chosen and adopted Son, Jesus.

Some might now cite the Proverb, "Trust in Yahweh with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding," (3:5) and it's certainly true! Anyone who has begun seeking higher education knows how much we simply do NOT know! But a humble acknowledgement of our lack of understanding itself points to our need to acquire it, and God loves those whom he corrects (Prov. 3:11)

Rev. George Harris (1794-1859) wrote, "Because we are required to submit to the divine authority, we should be assured, before we receive any doctrine that it is divine; and this it is evident we can only learn by bringing the doctrine before the high tribunal of Reason.

Reason is unquestionably a divine law, written with indelible characters upon every human heart; and no laws can be divine which are a contradiction to our Reason, or which are plainly repugnant to that sense of right and wrong which is implanted in the mind."

When looking at scripture, we therefore must examine it cautiously - rejecting narrow, small-minded Literalism and mindless (often out-of-context) proof-texting - and instead interpret it using our God-given gifts of Reason and common sense, and knowing these books were written by men, selected and chosen for inclusion in a Bible for men, and are interpreted by men.

Just as Jesus tells us the Sabbath was created for us, and not us for the Sabbath, use of our gift of Reason to examine God's message for us only makes sense.

In our moral lives, as well, we must employ Reason as a tool by which we may be guided.

The Rev. Joseph Priestley wrote, encouraging young men in college, "Above all things, be careful to improve and make use of the reason which God has given you, to be the guide of your lives, to check the extravagance of your passions, and to assist you in acquiring that knowledge, without which your rational powers will be of no advantage to you."

We have not been given impossible tasks by our God and by His Prophet, Jesus. Our senses have not been dulled nor our understandings darkened so much that we cannot turn to God and repent of our shortcomings.

If both Reason and our Hearts, along with our Teacher, Jesus, compel us to obey God, love Him, serve our fellow human beings with every fiber of our being, how can God's Kingdom NOT appear on the earth as we walk it?

Sunday, January 26, 2020

What Is Salvation? #JesusFollowers


A strict adherence to the language of the Scriptures will keep us from the error of imagining that the evil from which Jesus saves is the curse of man's original condition - the fearful destiny in which we are "cursed" by Nature.

It is not only inconceivable that a benevolent Being should have subjected His creatures to such a miserable fate prior to their sinning, or even to their existing, but, which is more to the point, the sacred writers perpetually teach that the misery to be saved from is that of sin, not of our natural condition; that the wrath to be escaped is that which comes from their own transgressions, not that which awaits them because they are simply human.

They speak of no evil prior to or greater than that of active sin. They speak of no curse before this, or independent of it. And they propose to save from this as the grand, the essential, the all-comprehensive ill, leading to consequences of wretchedness and despair.

To avoid the penalty, yet still enjoy the sin, has always been a chief object of false religions. But let us not be deceived. No such preposterous compromise has been made. 

What, then, is the nature of salvation, and from what does Jesus save us?

If we inquire of religion, as taught either by nature or by revelation, what is it, in strict truth, which God designs especially to promote by his government and his dispensations? Happiness? Yes, unquestionably. But how? Happiness only? Of any kind or of any description? If so, there were no need of laws and restraints, and moral laws, or institutions of discipline and instruction; for God might by the arbitrary appointments of His will lavish it abundantly on His creatures. But surely it is not so.

Being a holy God, whose hatred of sin is equal to His desire of happiness, and in whose view there is no true happiness where there is no holiness, He, therefore, makes holiness the primary object of His government, and the moral perfection of His offspring the favorite purpose of His dispensations.

God provides the means for the regeneration of free, intelligent, voluntary agents, existing in a state of probation.

There is nothing either arbitrary or compulsory in the Gospel. Salvation is offered to us, but not forced upon us. It is left to depend upon the use which is made of those privileges and aids which the grace of God has bestowed.

It is thus entirely conditional. It is dependent on every person’s free choice.

The waters of life flow by us in copious and inviting streams; if we will come and take them, we shall live forever; but let us act our own pleasure; there is no constraint. The table of heaven is spread, and urgent invitations are sent abroad, and a joyous welcome awaits those who will be guests. But it rests with ourselves to accept or refuse.

Jesus has thrown wide the doors of everlasting day, and poured a strong light on the true path of peace. He has placed himself at its entrance, to invite, and urge, and warn us - by our allegiance to God, by the miseries of our present condition, by the welfare of our souls, by the inconceivable glories of heaven – to pursue the way of holiness and life.

Jesus has offered us guidance, direction, aid, and blessing. We need only come to him, and we shall have life.

It is thus that salvation is by grace. Grace provides the means. Sinful and undeserving people, by an act of essential Benignity, by the unmerited favor of divine love, is put in the condition to escape from sin, and reach the bliss of heaven.

It is a general provision for the human race ; not a plan for the recovery of a selected few, nor a favor bestowed upon individuals; but an impartial offer of mercy to all — which offer having been made, and the opportunity having been given, each one is then, separately, to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.

The grace of God makes the most ample and munificent provision, even, as it were, the wings of an angel for his flight upward; but if we will not stretch them and rise, it sends down no chariot of fire to bear away our reluctant souls.

God saves us through Jesus — by opening to us a free path of escape from sin and misery, and guiding and aiding us in it, through the perils of life, to our heavenly home.

God opened the way and provided the means; and in each of us must walk in the way and use the means; or, instead of inheriting the blessing, we perish in the wilderness.

(Adapted from a sermon by Henry Ware, Jr. ca. 1850)

Sunday, January 19, 2020

God Gives Us Freedom To Choose! #JesusFollowers



God, our Creator, has created all of us with the awesome responsibility of the Freedom to Choose. The abilities and knowledge we inherit from God at our birth allow us to choose the Good, but has also left us with the ability to choose what is evil. It is in recognizing what is evil, and avoiding or repenting of it, then actively choosing the Good that we are considered Righteous by God.

In the Hebrew Bible, and as taught by Jesus, God repeatedly tells us to "choose" and "obey" and that we will be judged according to our choices.

God, through Moses, said that His Law was “not too hard” so that we “could do it.” (Deut. 30:14) And God expected us to obey his moral commands, as Jesus repeated consistently. Jesus said that no one else would be charged with our disobedience, and no other would be responsible for our actions except ourselves.

In the very beginning of the Hebrew Bible, we learn in the story of Adam and Eve how men were entrusted with a Freedom of Choice. The story portrays God as giving Adam and Eve the choice of not eating from a free of knowledge and remaining in a Garden of innocence forever, or eating from it and eventually dying, and leaving to make his own way in the world.

They chose to leave, and were told by God to "Be fruitful and multiply." Otherwise, his choice, and that of  Eve, affected no one but them. And note that Adam and Eve - created in God's image (Gen. 1:27) - were created to be perfect by God, they lived in a perfect world, yet were able to disobey God.

Sin cannot be inherited. Here's how we know: God told Adam's son, Cain (just one generation after Adam!) that he COULD avoid sin, and MUST do so to avoid punishment (Gen. 4:7.)

God didn’t respect Cain and his offering, "So Cain was very angry, and the expression on his face fell. And Yahweh said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires you, but you must rule over it." (Gen. 4:5b-8)

If he was able to freely choose to do Good, so may we! Only Cain was affected by his subsequent evil choice. The Bible teaches us that sins are acts, not THINGS. Sins are what we commit or avoid, not a thing we inherit biologically.

This is why Ezekiel records: "The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, fand the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself." (Ezek. 18:19)

Just after the Exodus out of Egypt, Joshua told the Israelites to serve Yahweh their God, "in sincerity and in truth," and to "choose this day whom you will serve," (Joshua 24:14-15) Clearly, Joshua believed they could choose to faithfully serve God in sincerity and in truth.

The prophet Isaiah also clearly agreed with God that human beings were capable of choosing to, "reject the wrong and choose the right." (7:15)

Psalm 24 notes who may stand before God: "The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god." This strongly affirms our ability to obey God and seek to be righteous. If we cannot do these things, then literally no one would ever stand in God's presence. But that's not what the Bible teaches.

Psalm 25-27 are even more personal, with King David saying that he has (following repentance) led a clean life by choosing the righteous path. He had earlier written: "Yahweh dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me." (Psalm 18:20)

Jesus had high hopes for our moral abilities, and taught that we are to be, "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48) This same teacher - this human being chosen by God - said that he did all things that pleased God (John 8:29.)

He also said that we must follow him, doing ALL that he had done. (John 13:15; 14:12) Based on these teachings, we definitely have the ability to do great good, if we choose to do so. It's the choosing that can be hard sometimes, but that does not diminish our ability to do the good, which is God-given.

We have the God-given ability to seek Godliness and that we can become Godly and complete – not by ourselves without God or without God’s chosen example, but with God's ongoing help and with the example of Jesus always before us.

As we have seen here, it is NOT our inherited destiny to be "unable to not sin," and that we are not born so depraved that we may not choose what is good and do it. The scriptures teach that we may indeed choose NOT to sin.

Ecclesiasticus records the clearest statement of our freedom to choose, saying: "If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given. For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything; his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every human action. He has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and he has not given anyone permission to sin." (15:15-20)

It is God’s choice – His GRACE alone – whether we shall live with Him eternally. But it is up to us if WE CHOOSE to seek this gift, and God says we demonstrate this choice by our actions. This isn't true only if we are unable to freely choose what is good.

We are called to commit our lives to obedience to God's chosen Son, Jesus, the Anointed Prophet of God, and submit to humbly walk with him, relying, as he taught, on God's grace and forgiveness and growing into the Righteous Perfection that God knows we are capable of achieving.

And while sin may be waiting by the door for us, seeking to master us, we are assured that we may indeed defeat – and master – sinful temptations. This is amazingly good news, because it shows that our Creator knows us, and still trusts us with the ability to act and choose to obey Him freely!

Through the teachings of Jesus, God shows us that He is a parent Who allows His children to make mistakes, repent, and turn back to doing what is right.We should thank God, our Creator in Whose image we were created, for trusting us to make our own choices, and let’s pledge to always take that awesome responsibility seriously in all that we do.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A Faith That Works #JesusFollowers


Without action, nothing is achieved. Jesus told a parable in which a king left a group of servants in charge of some money. The ones who invested and used it were praised upon his return. Those who did nothing and hid the money were scolded.

The same is true with our Faith in God, Whom Jesus reveals to us through his teachings, life and death. We are saved from sin in this life, and eternally, only by the teachings and example of Jesus.

A Faith that rests in smug complacency and pride fails. A Faith that puts our talents to work and tests us makes us spiritually stronger.

Jesus calls us to run, to achieve, to do, to act, to work, to become better, to seek out truth, to be righteous, to be humble, to worship and praise our God, and to love others.

And our works have eternal consequences, as well as being of great benefit to others around us right now.

This is a world desperately in need of a deep, loving faith that can work righteousness in the heart as well as in the mind. It needs a Kingdom of Godly men and women who actively feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, bind up the broken-hearted and tend to the ill. This is the very mission Jesus tells us he was sent to proclaim by his, and our, Creator.

Mere platitudes and a religion based upon “instant salvation,” which leaves our neighbors unloved, unserved, and falsely assured of eternity, cheats both them and us out of experiencing the Kingdom that Jesus announced as his mission.

Jesus taught clearly that we are saved eternally by God according to our works (though not by others' opinions of our works, nor by our high opinion of our own works, nor by how loudly we perform our works.)

God alone judges our Works, but it's clear from Jesus' teachings that mere good intentions alone do not save us, nor do they bring about God's Kingdom on earth.

There is no other teaching claiming the name ‘Christianity” that leads to salvation other than the words of Jesus, our Master. All we need to know about God’s Will for us was revealed in the words and example of Jesus, the one God adopted, chose and commissioned to preach to us.

So, when we encounter what is 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 and false gate, rather than the Gospel preached from the very mouth of Jesus.

That's because Jesus clearly calls us to an active Faith - a Faith that Works. It's a challenge worth accepting and worth LIVING. It leads to a spiritually complete life and to eternal life.

Jesus is a teacher who challenges us, his students, to become spiritually complete by actively seeking and doing Righteousness.

“For I have given you an example,” says our Master, “that you also should do just as I have done to you.”  (John 13:15)

Jesus preached in order to challenge us to seek spiritual completeness, and calls us today to be examples in his name. And he, as a human being, demonstrated that we can follow him in all things.

To imagine Jesus teaches anything less is to make him and his teachings into something small, and his Faith into something light, unimportant, and easy to obtain.

We must not degrade Jesus' teachings and the Faith that he proclaimed to the world in this way. And we should not settle for a Faith that doesn't Work Righteousness in this world, which desperately needs it.