Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Simple Gospel Of Jesus and His View Of God #JesusFollowers

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

Let's Join the Joyful Mission Of Jesus! #JesusFollowers

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

A Few Notes On Free Will #JesusFollowers

"When God created man in the beginning, He left him free to make his own decisions. If you wish, you can keep the commandments and it is in your power to remain faithful." (Ecclesiasticus, 15)

Whenever I have to speak on the subject of moral instruction and the conduct of a holy life, it is my practice first to demonstrate the power and quality of human nature and to show what is capable of achieving, and then to go on to encourage the mind of my listener to consider the idea of different kinds of virtues, in case it may be of little or no profit to him to be summoned to pursue ends which he has perhaps assumed up till now to be beyond his reach

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

Dealing With Anxiety During A Lockdown #JesusFollowers

This is a troubling and anxious time. We're locked down, isolated, lonely, and frequently filled with anxiety about material things and about the future.

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.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Gospel Is Not A "Mystery" (And Never Has Been!) #JesusFollowers

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 that remained hidden, nothing left out. There were no "mysteries" left to unfold or reveal after the ministry of Jesus ended. And certainly nothing that he "forgot" to reveal regarding God and salvation, and how we are to live Godly lives.

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 full understanding, as well as with 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 that 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 anyone who reads it. The life, teachings and example of Jesus are a clear window onto the Will of God. There are no dirty windows or "dark," foggy mirrors involved.

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.

And God will be our final judge, not others, and not ourselves.

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, July 5, 2020

How Should We Deal With Money? #JesusFollowers

Money is not evil. The concept of money has existed in every human civilization throughout history. It is useful in Commerce between human beings who trade their skills and products for it.

We certainly cannot look to Jesus to condemn the concept of money. In fact, Jesus says that using money to earn a wage and pay taxes is not wrong.

In the Parable of the Talents, he says putting out money to work for us and even gaining interest isn't wrong, either.

When a group of men were given money, one buried it, two others invested it. Those who used their money for good were praised. The one who hid their money and did nothing with it was condemned for not using the gifts he was given. We, too, must use wisely the gifts we are given, including the money that comes into our (temporary) possession.

And when he is challenged about paying taxes, he does not hesitate to say that the government of his time (the Roman Empire, led by Caesar Augustus) should receive the tax dollars that were due to them.

However, when money becomes an object or an idol that we worship above other things, it becomes something that gets between us and God, and between ourselves and others around us.

Jesus puts money in perspective. He teaches that we must actively lay up heavenly treasures, not earthly ones that don’t last (Matthew 5:44–46.) The race for wealth doesn’t last, but our rewards in Heaven do, if we act in a Godly fashion.

The psalmist says, "if riches increase, set not your heart on them." (62:10) and Jesus warns that riches are not the core of our Being, that we "are more than the sum of our possessions." (Luke 12)

And when Jesus says we may ask ANYTHING of God in prayer, we must understand that a love of money and a love of material things should not enter into that prayer, because that is expressing a greed for material possessions, not a pure love and the balanced understanding of "things" that God wishes us to have.

To know that we are to seek from God only spiritual things that don't rot or fade away, is to know we ought ONLY ask in prayer out of a pure Love for others and for THEIR spiritual well-being (and for our own spiritual completeness) rather than for material riches that aren't helpful to the advancement of God's Kingdom. If money enters our prayers, we make God into nothing more than a Heavenly ATM machine.

Similarly, our life's worth cannot not measured by the things we acquire - not in our material wealth - but in the SPIRITUAL wealth we accrue in Heaven and our spiritual abundance that is nurtured and grown by abiding with God and God's chosen one, Jesus, who is our example in all things financial as well as spiritual.

Like the parable Jesus told in which the proud man had just built large barns for his rapidly expanding possessions, only to die the very next day, we are not to revel in our material wealth, which is fleeting.

The words, life, teachings and death of our Master, Jesus, challenge us to do, to act, to follow, to serve, to be better, to do more, to try harder, to be humble, yet Righteous, to serve God, not money, to lose ourselves and gain eternity. Let's be the example to others in the way in which we handle our money that Jesus is to us!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

We Are Given Moral Freedom By God! #JesusFollowers

Jesus, in the establishment of his religion, did not force his followers to accept him. He taught every essential religious truth, made laws for their behavior, and spoke to them with persuasive words.

He then left them to act freely, so the happiness of his disciples might be the reward of obedience, which flows from an enlightened mind and a teachable attitude.

Our Master exhibited the clearest proof of a divine mission. By his life, he displayed the moral worth of his character. He called on his followers to examine his doctrines, to reflect on his works, and to weigh the actions of his life; and for themselves receive his words, obey his commands, and rely on his promises.

Jesus recognized powers in us to judge the evidence on which his religion is founded, and to perceive that his instructions conformed to the unchangeable laws of truth. A number of important inferences may be drawn from this appeal of our Master to the human mind. One is that religion is a rational and voluntary service.

God has given us the attributes of reason and liberty. These make us the subject of a moral government, and make us capable of virtuous action. Take away these abilities, and we cease to be subject to reward or punishment.

To make any course of action good, in a moral sense, an agent must be conscious of duty, and have the ability and power to do it. 

Actions in which the will of the agent have no place have no virtuous properties; and doing those actions cannot be called "moral." The way in which the human mind is used determines our moral character. Our actions create the morality of human conduct.

Having the Reason to distinguish good from evil, and the liberty to choose the one and refuse the other, make us capable of moral conduct and moral self-government. If our freedom and agency is taken away, we are no better than animals, or we become like mere machines.

It is the duty of human beings to enlighten their minds about religion. To act rationally and freely in the important aspects of our faith, we must know its foundation, and learn its essential truths and duties.

We cannot consistently perform the duties of religion, while ignorant of its first principles, any more than we can converse intelligibly in a language with which we are unacquainted.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Aaron Bancroft) 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The True Parentage of #Jesus, (And Why It Matters) [#JesusFollowers]

"This day, I have begotten you"
On this Father’s Day, we celebrate our fathers and those who have been fathers to us, influencing our lives and making us the people we are today.

As followers of Jesus, we look to him as a father figure, but also as a brother – a fellow member of the Human Race who also looked to *his* father and those who were father figures in his life. How we view Jesus is important because he is our God-anointed example and God's spokesman on earth.

Jesus was adopted. But Joseph, the husband of Mary, wasn't the one who adopted him, as we have all been taught. The adoptive father of Jesus was none other than God, the Creator of the Universe. How do we know this? We can find it right there in the Gospel stories.

Jesus was chosen by God (Matt. 12:18; Luke 9:35; 23:35) anointed by God (Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38) and sent by God (Mark 9:37; Matt. 9:38; Luke 9:48; John 5:37). At his baptism, God’s voice says, "You are my Son, this day I have begotten you," thus becoming his father by adoption (Luke 3:22, Acts 13:33, Psalms 2:7). In early manuscripts of the Gospels, Joseph is clearly spoken of as the father and Mary as the mother of Jesus. In Luke 2:48, for example, his mother, Mary, says to Jesus, when he had wandered off, "Your father and I have been looking for you."

In Matthew (13:55) he is easily recognized by others as fully human and part of a human family, saying, “Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?

Joseph was by all accounts a good father to Jesus, taking him to Jerusalem every year, performing everything according to the Law, and it is said that Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:39-41; 52)

The early church spoke of Jesus as a man, chosen by God. In Peter’s sermons in Acts, he speaks of him as, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God (Acts 2:22) and “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good.” (Acts 13:38.) Jesus is spoken of as a man’s offspring, the direct descendant of David (Acts. 13:23) and according to the Genealogy provided in the Gospels, this must be through his father, Joseph.

Thus, the early church that gathered in Jerusalem after the death of Jesus and his return to God in the resurrection, saw Jesus as a man, chosen by God, sent by God and adopted by God at his baptism to proclaim a Good and Beneficial Message to mankind, the Gospel, calling on all to repent. It could be no other way, since the Jewish Jesus Followers of that age (before the destruction of Jerusalem) continued to attend the Temple there every day.

If we believe this, what does it mean to us? What difference does it REALLY make if Jesus was adopted by God or was instead created by the seed of God Himself – an otherworldly being who was only adopted and raised by Joseph?

Jesus’ full humanity is vital to our ability to obey Jesus. Jesus tells us we must obey God and following the example of Jesus as a perfect role model of that behavior.

The Adoption of Jesus by God preserved the humanity of Jesus, allowing us to rely on his example and see through him a “Clear Glass” what God wishes for us all.

If Jesus is divine, fully or even partially, the example of Jesus that he set for us can be portrayed as meaningless as goals, because, it can be said, we cannot hope to accomplish them. They make his message and commands meaningless, too, and turns him into a mocker or a false prophet, urging us to do what cannot possibly be done – to be exactly like a half-man/half-God, a demigod, who was endowed in a way that we are not.

The church of Christendom today (specifically Protestant Christendom) believes exactly this: that we cannot be like Jesus, the Demigod, so we should not even try to do the Good Works that he commanded. We can, they say, only believe “on” him in order to gain his goodness and righteousness magically, by our mere words and beliefs, and that full obedience of Jesus’ commands is literally impossible.

But this makes not only Joseph, but Jesus, into an irrelevancy. It makes obedience seem impossible. It makes the words of Jesus into a mockery, and we know that Jesus himself said that his words would “not pass away” even as he said the Jewish world around his followers would.

Today, we must look to Jesus as the son of a human father – a man adopted by God to be the specially anointed Prophet who brings us a message that liberates us and elevates us, telling us that we MAY and MUST obey God and become righteous in our deeds, not just in our intentions and mere words, always relying humbly on God for strength to become more like His adopted Son, Jesus. That is the message of the Gospel, pure and simple. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Simplicity Of #Jesus' True Religion #JesusFollowers

The Sermon on the Mount is practical and simple, uninvolved in any abstruse, remote, or novel conceptions. It expresses no ideas that amaze and stupefy, or call for careful consideration on account of their novelty. 

It is a solemn, searching declaration of the universal religion of humanity: God is holy, wise, good; blessed are you if you are pure, meek, hungering for righteousness, and living from the heart pure, useful, holy lives. This is all the doctrine there is in it; not a word about the nature of the Godhead, the fall of man, the need of the atonement, the deity of Christ, the necessity of baptism and the saving sacrament of the communion.

And, indeed, the four Gospels are all simplicity itself, so far as they give us Christ's own words. Jesus spoke the language and the truth and the religion of a simple, artless, deep-centered representative of universal humanity — true always, everywhere, and for all. There is nothing to add, nothing to abate, nothing to excuse or to explain away in his teachings.

Because they give voice to what humanity knows to be deep and holy, they hold the allegiance of those in the twenty-first, as they will those of the thirty-first century. We cannot conceive of anything about our faith that is not already in the teachings, spirit, and example of Jesus.

Jesus has taught and illustrated our faith in ways a child can understand. But it is so plain that it looks severe; so simple that it looks cold and hard, like a marble statue. Its simplicity leaves us no loopholes of escape from its commandments. It cannot be, says the weaver of subtleties, that Jesus really expected us to be what he was and make his character our example. It cannot be that he really expected us to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves!

This is very simple, but it is so exacting and so hard! It is easier to believe a much more complex and inexplicable creed than to practice this very simple one. And so, not because it was unintelligible, but because it was too intelligible — not because it was uncertain, but because it was too plain — the subtlety of the Church and of the Christian world has upholstered and stuffed and cushioned and draped the simplicity of religion, until it has been made as great a mystery as an Egyptian mummy in its endless wrappings.

How much easier it is for the soul, reluctant for duty and self-sacrifice, to spend its time in high speculation about the nature of the Godhead than in plain obedience to an imperative voice of God enjoining us to shun evil and do right!

How much lighter work it is to bow when Jesus' name occurs in the creed, and to give him all the honors and worship of a God, than to keep his moral teachings and put on his meek and loving attitude! 

The simplicity of Jesus as it reveals itself in the Sermon on the Mount is often compared disparagingly with the voluminous faith of the Nicene Creed. Call that simplicity the Christian religion, which really adds nothing to the old Jewish and the older natural religion of love to God and love to man, except the example and spirit of Jesus! 

What, then, becomes of the Fall, and the Curse, and the Atonement, and the Sacraments, and the Trinity, and the Deity of Christ, and all the rest of the dogmatic paraphernalia of religion? They become invisible, like candles in the presence of the sun; they fall, like tents rich with hangings when the sky clears and spreads its own tabernacle around us.

It is the keeping of these great commandments that discloses their richness and fullness. They are simple and few. 

But live by them, and you will find that all the bodies of divinity in the world could not contain their lessons, or describe the glorious richness of their contents. If we are to have substitutes for holy living, nothing can be more effectual than hard metaphysical dogmas, or disputes about modes of worship.

To promote and exact real morality and true piety we can conceive nothing so well fitted as the simplicity of Jesus – the plain, unequivocal, uninvolved requirement of love to God, tested by love to men and active usefulness in life.

Do not allow yourselves to fall under the dominion of these sounding subtleties, these dark dogmas, these involved metaphysical puzzles that pass for religion and Christianity. They will unsettle your common sense, and befog your conscience.

It is not the unknown we can profit by, but the known. It is not the obscure, but the plain, that should have our attention.

It takes no learning, no scholarship, no formal logic, no fine-spun reasoning, to know God so far as we need to know Him, as a moral governor and Father of spirits; to know Jesus as a holy, gentle, and wise Master and guide of character; to know our duty well enough to live chastely, truthfully, honestly, with mercy and sympathy.

And this is all we need to know to fulfill all the obligations and to reach all the blessings of religion.

The common sense view of religion, as of life, is the true view. Eccentric or exceptional views are usually erroneous. Trust your capacity to know God and to understand Jesus by directing a plain common-sense intelligence towards them.

You have no more faith than you practice, no more religion than you live out, and no Savior unless he is found in you. This is simple, plain truth. Allow no spirit of subtlety to hide or deform it.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Henry W. Bellows, 1886)

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Reason And Revelation, Together! #JesusFollowers

There are two witnesses: the witness for God which He has placed in every mind - the revelation of His spirit in the rational and immortal soul of man; and the Reason which we have the capacity of exercising in conformity to His spirit.

Reason can do nothing by itself; therefore, it is only to decide which things are revealed to us by God’s light. Our Reason would be dormant, were it not for revelation. The light of the outward sun is a beautiful index of the Son of heaven, as it reveals all things on our earth; and until it shines upon our earth, Reason lies dormant.

We are thus enabled to speak of things, to regulate things, to add to and diminish from things; and thus, under the operation of Reason, we can make them in a measure useful; in a measure a blessing to us.

Here we see the ability of this Reason; and Reason must always be subject to revelation. It knows nothing till revelation gives it materials, by which the soul can act upon them, and improve them.

Let all our faculties be rightly exercised; let right Reason and Revelation go hand in hand; for Reason is the most noble part of the creature; it gives a distinction between thing and thing. And as it is a gift of God, so we shall find that it is fully so - a gift to the soul.

We are all to attend to our own salvation: and if we are concerned to do this, will we give way to notions that will hinder this salvation? God is to judge of these things; and man is only to judge of the overt acts of his fellow creatures - such as have a tendency to injure his fellow creatures.

But if a brother or sister seeks to do all their duties, consistent with the will of God Almighty, we have no right to judge any farther than this, "By their fruits ye shall know them."

We know that love and good works are the only fruits of the right and good tree: but the contrary fruit is the fruit of thorns and briars always and perpetually.

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.