Sunday, March 30, 2014

We Are Called to Show God’s Mercy to Others

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, March 23, 2014

Jesus Calls Us to Love God Completely And Serve Others Selflessly

During his ministry, Jesus taught us to selflessly love God and others completely. As Jesus followers, these two “great commandments” must be at the heart of all that we do, think and say. It should guide our actions and inform our motives. If we claim to be obedient to the will of God, as expressed in the life and teachings of Jesus, these teachings be at the forefront of our Faith.

Love of God and love of Others is the core of Jesus' teaching on Love, and summarized the teachings of the Jewish prophets and Law.

“Teacher,” Jesus was asked, “which is the great commandment in the Law?” His answer? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:36-40.)

While many Christians have heard these words before, many, if not most, don’t take them to their fullest meaning, and others lessen their importance, either by minimizing their intended impact, or by de-emphasizing them entirely.

Much of what Jesus taught was extremely simple to grasp, while being extremely challenging, in the sense that his teachings challenged us to actively pursue righteousness in our actions and to seek God by pursuing Godliness in our hearts.

And while this summary of the Law and the Prophets did simplify the message God sends to His people, it was never meant to mean that religion only means that we need have “warm feelings” for both God and for our fellow human beings and that we can leave it at that. Nor does this crucial saying end the necessity for Good Works nor nullify any of God’s Moral Law, as evangelical Christians often assert.

The nature of the Great Commandment is to reiterate the basics of the faith the Jews had inherited from their Fathers. It wasn't about the hundreds of man-made rules and regulations that the Pharisees and other groups had created over the centuries. Jesus condemned those and said they separated men from God.

But while some would like to believe Jesus said, “Just acknowledge God’s existence and be nice to one another,” (or who deny that anything further than mere acknowledgement is possible for a human being) the Great Commandment asks for more than that.

The Great Commandment is a challenge – and a rather radical one. Namely, that God must become the absolute center of our lives – and not just on Sunday at 11 o’clock in the morning. God must be loved with ALL our hearts and ALL our soul and ALL our mind, at all times. One hundred percent is required, no less.

This is a call to do good - a call to serve Others, just as Jesus served others. We are able to serve just as Jesus served, we are commanded to do so, and Jesus confirms this with his words (John 14:23-24) which will never pass away (Matt. 24:35.) Only those who DO what is right, as Jesus has commanded, is righteous, just Jesus was righteous (1 John 3:7.)

We have no right to claim to be a follower of Jesus if we don't strive to love God completely and serve others just as Jesus did. Nor may we "claim" our eternal salvation from God if we don't consequently seek to act righteously as both He and His Chosen Spokesman commanded.

We are to be the hands and words and comforting arms of God's Kingdom here on Earth. We are called by Jesus to be a People of God, to serve Others in the name of God's Anointed servant, Jesus. And we are called to forgive others, if we expect to be forgiven by God (Mark 6:14-15.)

There are some who go on to deny that we can ever do this, being lowly human beings, weak in our flesh. But they forget that our flesh was created by God, and that God knows us and would not command that we do what we are unable to do.

God adopted, chose, anointed and sent the man Christ Jesus, to both proclaim our ability to do what God asks us to do, and to demonstrate by his selfless and perfectly moral life that Godliness may indeed be manifested in a human being, and that ALL may do as Jesus has done. This is Good News, and we must proclaim it to the world.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

God Pardons Sins Upon Our Repentance Alone! #JesusFollowers

The pardoning mercy of God is not a discovery peculiar to the Gospel. It was equally made known to the world before Jesus.

"When I say to the wicked, You shall surely die;" (speaks Almighty God by his prophet, Ezekiel (33:14) "If he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and rights none of his sins that he has committed shall be mentioned unto him: he has done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live."

And Isaiah says,  "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, and he will abundantly pardon." (55:7)

Since we here plainly show that Jesus neither procured nor first revealed the divine forgiveness to repenting sinners - because the people of Israel were fully aware of it before he came among them and spoke to them - we still must inquire: In what way does he save sinners?

He says: "I am the light of the world:" (8:12) “whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." And, "Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent." (John 17:3)

When the world was called to the hope of eternal life through Christ, it was justly and indispensably required of them to repent and renounce every evil way, to fit and qualify them for a happiness with God, into whose presence nothing sinful or unholy, nothing false or unjust can ever enter.

Hence we find that almost all our Savior's instructions were of the practical kind. Not so much what men were to believe, as what they were to DO to attain eternal life.

The Apostle Peter, in his discourse to his countrymen soon after Jesus' resurrection, closes his exhortation to them saying (Acts 3:26) "Unto you first, God having raised up his servant Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities."

This was the way in which they were to be blessed or saved by Jesus, in hearkening to the preaching of his apostles who spoke in his name, and in turning from their iniquities.

These Jews had expected great temporal blessings from their Messiah. The apostle tells them that the blessings they were to look for from the Gospel, were none other but the means to become holy and good, which would qualify them for an endless happiness in the future world.

In this way, then, Jesus saved sinners, by bringing them off from their evil courses, to walk in the holy ways of God.

If we have happily learned from Christ, whose words and example are set before us by his apostles, to prefer virtue and holiness and doing the will of God above all worldly views and enjoyments, and can welcome reproach and suffering for his sake, in the way of our duty, and to spread the knowledge of God and his truth that many may be saved by it: we have then all reason to think well of our estate, and that, if by the divine assistance we thus persevere unto the end, eternal life will be ours.

But many are not content with this plain way of salvation marked out by the Gospel, in which the apostles of Jesus walked before us, and directed us to follow them. They would willingly be saved without the trouble of forsaking their sins, and amending their crooked tempers and dispositions.

And hence, from some mistaken passages of Scripture and various errors concerning the person and office of Christ, they have imagined that it was he alone that made God favorable and propitious to his sinful creatures, and that it is sufficient for salvation that we be persuaded of this, and moreover, that it is most honorable to God to give all to him in the work of salvation, and nothing to ourselves.

But our heavenly Father has always been merciful and compassionate towards his children, and ready with open arms to receive them to his mercy when they repent, without any other consideration, without the interposition of any other person on their behalf.

All that our Savior did and suffered, was to be a means of his own purification and advancement, as the Scriptures inform us, and at the same time a most powerful and efficacious motive and inducement to change our dispositions and reconcile us to God, and not to reconcile God to us, who is always disposed to show kindness to us.

And it is a vain and groundless fancy that we are to be passive in the work of our salvation. We must be fitted and qualified for it by suitable holy tempers and virtuous habits. And these cannot be wrought in us without our own will and concurrence. And this continual exertion of ourselves, to work holiness in the shadow of the Master, is what the Scriptures throughout exhort to and require at our hands.

(Rev. Theophilus Lindsey, 1723-1808, was a British theologian and clergyman who founded the first openly Unitarian congregation in London.)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

In Praise of Virtue

Guest Sermon by Rev. Richard Price 

Virtue is the image of God in the soul, and the noblest thing in the creation; and, therefore, it must be the principal ground of true happiness. It is the rule by which God meant that we should act; and, therefore, must be the way to the bliss for which he intended us. That Being who gave us our sense of moral obligations, must have designed that we should conform to them.

Virtue, in the very idea of it, implies health and order of mind. The human soul is a composition of various affections standing in different relations to one another; and all placed under the direction of conscience, our supreme faculty.

When we are truly virtuous, none of these affections are allowed to err either by excess or defect. They are kept in their proper subordinations to one another. The faculty that was made to govern preserves its authority; and a due balance is maintained among our inward powers. To be virtuous, therefore, is to be in our natural and sound state. It is to be freed from all inward tumult, anarchy, and tyranny. It is to enjoy health, and order, and vigor, and peace, and liberty; and, therefore, the greatest happiness.

By practicing virtue, we gain more of the united pleasures arising from the gratification of all our powers, than we can in any other way.

Thousands are every day dying martyrs to ambition, to lust, to covetousness, and intemperance. But seldom does it happen, that virtue puts us to any such trial.

How wrong it is to conceive of religious virtue as an enemy to pleasure! This is doing it the greatest injustice. It is, without all doubt, the very best friend to true pleasure. If we were to judge it from the stiffness and severity of some who pretend it is, we might be forced to entertain a different opinion of virtue. But such persons do not show it to us in its true form. They mistake its nature, and are strangers to its genuine spirit. Instead of driving us, with the wretched votaries of superstition, into deserts and cloisters, and making us morose and .gloomy, virtue calls us out into society, and disposes us to constant readiness and cheerfulness.

What reasons have we for seeking virtue above all things! You have heard how happy it will make us. Let us then, pray for virtue earnestly; and despise everything that can come in competition with it. If we have this, we can want nothing that is desirable. If we want this, we can have nothing that will do us any substantial service. Go then, all you careless and irreligious men. Take to yourselves your money, your honors, and polluted pleasures. I would, desire Virtue only. There is nothing else worth an eager wish. Here would I center all my cares and labors.

Richard Price (1723-1791) was a Welsh non-conformist minister and theologian.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Jesus is Our Perfect Moral Example in Life and Death #JesusFollowers

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

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

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

The path that he trod is the same path and course of self-denial that we must tread, and which is untrodden by every creature, till he is finally led by the same spirit that led our great Pattern, Jesus. In that way, his righteousness becomes ours; and this is the only righteousness that ever saved an individual in the world - obedience to the manifestation of the will of God.

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

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

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

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

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

Elias Hicks (1748-1830) was a Quaker minister who held Unitarian views of Christ Jesus and reflected other doctrinal beliefs in common with Unitarian Christians of his age.