Sunday, June 29, 2014

Jesus: Climate Change Advocate! #JesusFollowers

Jesus was one of history's strongest advocates for Climate Change. It's true!

At a time when Israel was occupied by Roman soldiers on behalf of a world-conquering empire, Jesus called on all who heard him to change the climate by loving their enemies (the Romans) and if they forced them to carry their packs a mile, they should "go another mile with them."

At a time when people were focused on extremely detailed rule-following as a sign of religious observance, Jesus called on his hearers to not only follow the LETTER of the Moral Laws Moses had proscribed for them (don't commit adultery, don't commit murder, don't swear falsely) but also more deeply follow the SPIRIT of those laws (don't lust after others, don't hate our brothers and sisters, let our thoughts and words be pure and honest.)

Jesus called on people to deny themselves, at a time when such a thing was unheard of in the society in which he grew up. To serve others and love God completely, to deny yourself, to take up a 'cross,' and to take on a 'yoke' of obedience - these things were revolutionary, and remain so today.

Jesus said we can be perfect, and spiritually complete and mature. He called on people to serve God in spirit and in Truth, and showed by example that IT CAN BE DONE by a human being! His challenge to those who heard him was to be more righteous in our acts than the Pharisees - whom many believed to be the holiest people in the world - was likely met with shock and gasps. That they followed rituals purely was true, but many didn't have spiritual hearts that led them to truly holy outward actions.

In these ways, Jesus called on his disciples to CHANGE THE CLIMATE - not the political climate through political agitation against Rome, not the military climate through violence, nor the religious climate through more public ritual observances.

No, Jesus called on them, as he calls on us today, to change the spiritual climate of their age - to usher in God's Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven - through their daily actions, making it a reality on the earth RIGHT NOW. We are not called to wait, to blame God, to blame our human weaknesses, to claim God has not given us the ability to obey Him, or to pretend our individual actions cannot make a difference.

The political and social climate will take care of themselves, and we can't change them easily on our own. And while we can all treat the Earth better (since it belongs to God, not to us) we cannot on our own change the earth's climate.

But we are called by Jesus - the one whom God chose and sent to be His spokesman and our Master and example - to rise to the challenges he calls on us to accept if we claim we are his disciples.

One by one, day by day, we each change the spiritual climate around us and bring in the Kingdom of God, as we live as Jesus commands us to do.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

12 Ways Jesus Challenges Us to Be Better

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

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

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

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

Jesus calls us to be better people. Mere belief is not enough, but is only the start of our Faith. If we say we love Jesus, we will keep his commands (John 14:15.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us take up the challenge Jesus puts before us!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Jesus Honors His Heavenly Father

Across the world today, millions are celebrating Father's Day - honoring their fathers just as they honored their mothers on Mother's Day in May.

Created in 1909 by the daughter of an American Civil War veteran to honor her father (just as Mother's Day already honored mothers) it wasn't recognized officially in the US until 1966, and only became truly "official" by presidential proclamation in 1972.

We are told in scripture that God sent Moses His "official proclamation" to honor fathers (along with mothers) in the form of a commandment, telling us that we are to "honor your father."

As in all things, we can look to Jesus for perfect examples of how we should faithfully honor our Father - in his case God, his Heavenly Father, Whom the Scriptures say adopted him as His special Son, to be sent into the world to call us all to honor this One God.

Jesus' relationship with our Heavenly Father is the model by which we, also, should obey and love this eternal Father, our Creator.

Jesus always remembered to speak of this Father, Who is also ours, with honor and respect.

"The Father is greater than I am," he says (John 14:28.) Without his Father, he could "do nothing." (John 5:19.) And Jesus prayed to his Heavenly Father, and instructed us to do the same (Matt. 6:9.)

He said he was "one" with the Father (John 10:30) and said that we, too, must be one with Him (John 17:21.)

Some things were withheld from Jesus by his Father. The day of Retribution on Israel, for example: "Now concerning that day or hour no one knows... nor the Son - only the Father." (Mark 13:32); "To sit on my right hand and on my left, is not mine to give," he tells the mother of John and James Zebedee (Matt. 20:23)

Jesus sets for us a pattern of obedience to our fathers. Jesus tells us that he does nothing except what the Father tells him to do, and that WE, TOO, must obey God.

Doing God's will - by active, forceful and deliberate WORKS - is at the core of everything Jesus preached and taught.

Jesus humbly says that he fully obeys God, and that he can only do what he sees his Father doing, "because whatever the Father does the son also does" (John 5:19.) This is the pattern of obedience for which Jesus was chosen by God to be His spokesman to mankind, and to what he calls US to do as well.

Jesus cautions us that we must not just give lip service to God, our Father, but we must obey God if we expect to see His face and win eternal life from Him.

It's not the one who shouts praises at Jesus who will gain eternal life, he says (Matt 7:21) but it's “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."

Even food is less important than doing God's will. When his followers fretted about not having brought food for him to eat on a journey, Jesus told them not to fret, because "My 'food' is to do the will of the Father" (John 4:34.)

We are called to emulate Jesus in all things, and indeed, we become Jesus' brothers and sisters when we do the will of our Heavenly Father - children of the same God, as obedient to Him as we would be to our own fathers.

With Jesus as our example, let us honor our Father in Heaven in humility and with love and service.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Necessity of Good Works

Guest Sermon by Rev. Abiel Abbot

Jesus has made believers his peculiar people, by giving himself for them, a people zealous, not of rites and ceremonies, but of good works.

When our Lord, and his apostles, have laid such stress upon good works, and have frequently declared them indispensable as a condition of salvation, none, who profess Christianity, can neglect the practice of them, without the extreme peril of their souls. This being the great end of Christ Jesus’ life and death, none who profess to be preachers of the Gospel can speak of good works with contempt or indifference, without bringing a grievous offense upon the faith of Jesus. Woe will be to them, by whom such offense comes.

After even this brief and imperfect discussion, I hope we see enough in our text to justify the eminent individual, to whom I have alluded, in resting his soul upon it; enough to awaken our minds to hope and duty.

How willing, how desirous is he to reconcile sinners to himself, saying, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die” (Ezek. 33:11) is his expostulation by the prophet. He observes by the prophet Jeremy to the Jews, and through them to all men, “Yet I sent all my servants the prophets to you again and again, saying, ‘Do not do this repulsive thing that I hate.’" (Jer. 44:4)

And in the New Testament, behold God sent out His only Son to seek and save the lost, and the train of the apostles and evangelists; all beseeching us to be reconciled to God. Let our hearts be melted by all this grace; let not one resist all this superabundant mercy.

There being such earnestness on the part of God for our salvation; and the Savior having done and suffered so much for this great end, some seem easy and confident, that salvation for all men and all characters is made certain, without any active concurrence on their part.

Let it be remembered that the very grace of God requires, in order to salvation, a renovation of heart, and purity of life. It teaches, that ungodliness must be denied, worldly lusts renounced and forsaken, that men must live in sobriety, righteousness, and godliness, and be redeemed from all iniquity, purified a peculiar people to Christ, zealous of good works.

It is in vain, then, for any of us to take encouragement from the grace of God, great, wonderful as it is, except, at the same time, we yield ourselves to the condition, on which it brings salvation. We must be divorced from sin, or renounce the hope of salvation. In the Gospel plan, and in the nature of things, sin and salvation cannot go together. 

Let us, then, abandon false hopes, and judge truly, that no step is taken toward salvation, any farther than it is taken in renouncing sin. Judge, then, my dear hearers, judge of your hope and prospect of the great salvation, precisely according to the degree in which you die unto sin and live unto righteousness, are dead to the world, and alive unto God.

From: “Sermons by the Late Rev. Abiel Abbot of Beverly, MA” (1831) by S. Everett.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Unique Character of Jesus

Guest sermon by Dr. William Ellery Channing

We are immediately struck with this peculiarity in the Author of Christianity: that while all other men are formed in a measure by the spirit of the age, we can discover in Jesus no impression of the period in which he lived.

We know with considerable accuracy the state of society, the modes of thinking, the hopes and expectations of the country in which Jesus was born and grew up; and he is as free from them, and as exalted above them, as if he had lived in another world, or, with every sense closed to the objects around him.

His character has in it nothing local or temporary. It can be explained by nothing around him. His history shows him to us a solitary being, living for purposes which none but himself comprehended, and enjoying not so much as the sympathy of a single mind.

His apostles, his chosen companions, brought to him the spirit of the age; and nothing shows its strength more strikingly, than the slowness with which it yielded in these honest men to the instructions of Jesus.

Jesus came to a nation expecting a Messiah; and he claimed this character. But instead of conforming to the opinions which prevailed in regard to the Messiah, he resisted them completely and without reserve to a people anticipating a triumphant leader, under whom vengeance as well as ambition was to be glutted by the prostration of their oppressors, he came as a spiritual leader, teaching humility and peace.

This hostility to the hopes and prejudices of his nation; this deliberate exposure of himself to rejection and hatred, cannot easily be explained by the common principles of human nature, and excludes the possibility of selfish aims in the Author of Christianity.

One striking peculiarity in Jesus is the extent and the vastness of his views. While all around him looked for a Messiah to liberate God's ancient people, while to every other Jew, Judea was the exclusive object of pride and hope, Jesus came, declaring himself to be the deliverer and light of the world, and in his whole teaching and life, you see a consciousness – which never forsakes him – of a relation to the whole human race. This idea of blessing mankind, of spreading a universal religion, was the most magnificent which had ever entered man's mind.

Compare next these views of Jesus with his station in life. He was of humble birth and education, with nothing in his lot, with no extensive means, no rank, or wealth, or patronage, to infuse vast thoughts and extravagant plans.

The shop of a carpenter, the village of Nazareth, were not spots for ripening a plan more aspiring and extensive than had ever been formed. It is a principle of human nature, that except in case of insanity, some proportion is observed between the power of an individual, and his plans and hopes. The purpose to which Jesus devoted himself was as ill-suited to his condition as an attempt to change the seasons, or to make the sun rise in the west.

That a young man, in obscure life, belonging to an oppressed nation, should seriously think of subverting the time-hallowed and deep-rooted religions of the world, is a strange fact; but with this purpose we see the mind of Jesus thoroughly imbued; and, sublime as it is, he never falls below it in his language or conduct, but speaks and acts with a consciousness of superiority, with a dignity and authority, becoming this unparalleled destination.

The most striking trait in Jesus was, undoubtedly, benevolence; and although this virtue had existed before, yet it had not been manifested in the same form and extent. Jesus' benevolence was distinguished first by its expansiveness. At that age, an unconfined philanthropy, proposing and toiling to do good without distinction of country or rank, was unknown.

Love to men as men, love, comprehending the hated Samaritan and the despised publican, was a feature which separated Jesus from the best men of his nation and of the world. Another characteristic of the benevolence of Jesus was its gentleness and tenderness, forming a strong contrast with the hardness and ferocity of the spirit and manners which then prevailed, and with that sternness and inflexibility which the purest philosophy of Greece and Rome inculcated as the perfection of virtue.

The character of Jesus, then, was real. Its reality is the only explanation of the mighty revolution produced by his religion. And how can we account for it, but by that cause to which he always referred it, a mission from the Father.

- Written by Dr. William Ellery Channing, 1826, adapted from "Discourses on the Evidences of Revealed Religion" in Tracts of the American Unitarian Association, Vol. 1, 1827.