Sunday, August 30, 2015

In Praise of Reason #JesusFollowers

Some view Reason as opposed to God, and its use as somehow usurping, insulting or opposing Him, as if Reason was by its nature opposed to God.

But Human Reason must be seen as a gift of God, which He implanted within us for us to discover, using the other gifts which He entrusted to us.

We should never base our opinion of a thing based on a false judgement of it, or by the worst belief someone holds of it.

Human Reason can, if not truly reasonable, lead us astray. It can lead us to believe we are greater than the creator, that Reason is itself greater than that which created us, and it.

Once it’s considered to be such a thing, it is condemned, but falsely, since that’s not human Reason IS.

Reason and Faith are not opposed to one another, but are instead both necessary for us to understand God and God's will for us.

Rationality walks hand-in-hand with Spirituality. When irrational elements of religion are stripped away, we may focus clearly on the mission God's Anointed One, Jesus sends us to do.

God gave us Reason and the ability to obey Him, and Reason is a God-given gift we must use to discern His Will.

Just as we ought to not condemn someone based on others’ opinions of them – or mere rumors ABOUT them, which often are not true or are based on false assumptions, biases or slanders – we ought to assess Reason in its truest and purest form, rather than the worst assumptions about it.

Many do the same for the Religion Jesus left us. They consider all the horrific things done it its name, the abuses done to people, the wars, the complicated and contradictory doctrines – and assume them to be the highest version of that religion. Then they say, “See, these examples ARE the religion of Jesus, therefore, we must reject it.”

Such things SHOULD be rejected, but to assume that this is the True Religion of Jesus is to start with a false assumption.

It would be as if we judged a tree in autumn, with its leaves fallen out or yellow with age to be “dead,” not knowing about, or deliberately not remembering, the vibrant greens of spring.

Those who have rejected God, also often base that rejection on only the worst aspects of the Christian religion: the toxic additions of men, not the purity of its founder, Jesus.

So too, rejecting the Godly faculty of Reason, it’s been said, prepares one for worse and worse delusions. [Channing, Discourse, 1826]

The teachings of Jesus are reasonable. Jesus calls us to love God with all understanding (Matt. 15:10.) Jesus reminds us that God wishes us to “love the Lord your God with ALL YOUR MIND” (Mark 12:30.) We cannot fully love God, therefore, unless we use ALL of the understanding and knowledge God Himself gave us, and continues to give us.

Reason in fact plays a huge and important role in God’s religion, as expressed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. And just as Reason finds a place, so also is Wisdom, knowledge and understanding greatly praised by scripture, though often, as in Jesus’ time, they are degraded by men who are assumed to be “wise” in religious knowledge.

We must fully embrace the Reasonableness of the Gospel that Jesus has taught, just as the former Prophets of God testified to God’s wisdom and knowledge, which He shares with all of us when we seek it.

When Yahweh says, “Come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18) He expresses his desire to engage and converse with us, His creation, and make reasonable terms by which we may be His children.

In the Proverbs, we read, "By wisdom Yahweh founded the earth. By understanding, he established the heavens. By his knowledge, the depths were broken up, and the skies drop down the dew. My son, let them not depart from your eyes. Keep sound wisdom and discretion: so they will be life to your soul, and grace for your neck. Then you shall walk in your way securely. Your foot won't stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid. Yes, you will lie down, and your sleep will be sweet." (Proverbs 3:19-24)

We are to use our gift of Reason, just as our gifts of wisdom and knowledge, to walk in the way of Jesus, who walked perfectly in the way of God. Our feet stumble less when we adhere to the correct path, guided by these gifts.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Hearing, And Doing, IS Our Salvation #JesusFollowers

"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock." (Matt. 7:24-25)

Here in Jesus’ words we see what that rock really is which is a Christian’s security in the day of his trial; namely, the attending to and following the advice and counsel that Jesus had given in the Sermon on the Mount, and doing what he had been recommending us to practice.

Jesus had been recommending to his audience the practice of moral virtue, or the conforming men’s attitudes and actions to that law or rule of action which is founded in the reason of things.

It is both hearing these sayings of Jesus AND doing them, which is (in Jesus' words) building upon a rock, and which is a Christian's ONLY security in the day of his judgement. 

It is not professing Jesus, nor calling him Lord, nor giving him the highest praises, nor is it an “orthodox faith” or its creeds, nor is it assenting to mysteries and unintelligible propositions, that are the rock a Christian may safely and securely build upon.

It is to have our minds possessed with those virtuous qualities, and our lives adorned with those worthy and virtuous actions that Jesus in the preceding Sermon [on the Mount] had been recommending, which alone can afford a just ground of hope and comfort.

Our Master goes on in verse 26: “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.”

Here we see what folly and madness it is for a person to make anything besides hearing these sayings of Jesus and doing them (or the practice of moral virtue) the ground of his confidence; because anything, and everything short of this would be like building a house upon the sand, which when the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon it, it would fall, and great would be the fall of it.

Whoever believes in Jesus is called upon to become a virtuous and good person; such a person will be saved, or have everlasting life. And whosoever in this sense does not believe, that is, does not become virtuous and good, but goes on in a vicious and wicked course of life, such a person will die in his sins.

It is the doing or not doing what Jesus requires, which is the ground of our safety or danger; and this is the test by which we shall be judged, according to Christ's own words.

The Gospel are to become a principle of action in the believer, and rightly direct their mind and life.

But our Master makes the case still plainer, if such a thing is necessary, in his answer to the man's question, Matthew 19:16. “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” This was a plain and a fair question. And the answer which Jesus returned to this important question was, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

This answer was as plain and full as the case required. The only ground of divine acceptance, that which renders us pleasing and acceptable to God, and which secures to them the happiness of another world, is keeping the commandments. 

From all which it is most evident that by the Commandments Jesus means the moral law, or that rule of action which is founded in the reason of things; and which therefore every rational being ought to direct his behavior by, and whoever makes this law the measure of his actions shall have everlasting life.

Here again we see Jesus declare that the way to eternal life, or the true grounds of divine acceptance is to keep the Commandments, by loving God and our neighbor, which is nothing else but conforming our minds and lives to that rule of action which is founded in the reason of things. 

The questions which were put to him were of the highest importance to us all, namely, what we should do that we might obtain eternal life; and he was sent out into the world that he might be a safe guide to us in this very issue, and has given us a full and true answer to those questions, plainly declaring all that was necessary for us to know and do in order to obtain eternal life. 

We may depend upon it that the keeping the Commandments, or the governing our minds and lives by that rule of action which is founded in the reason of things will most certainly render us pleasing and acceptable to God, and secure to us the happiness of another world.

(Adapted from "The Gospel of Christ Asserted," by Thomas Chubb, 1738)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

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 Christ’s 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 fulfil 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, August 9, 2015

The Clear Gospel of Jesus. #JesusFollowers

The clarity of Jesus' Gospel is obvious to all who read his words. The life, teachings & example of Jesus are a clear window onto the Will of God. We do not need to complicate it or make it mysterious in any way.

Jesus lived, taught and died as an example, so that we would follow it and achieve spiritual completion, just as he has done. That is the core of his Gospel - his Good and Beneficial Message to all the world, for which he was chosen, anointed by God and sent into the world to preach.

Jesus is the moral example by which we are able to follow in order to reach spiritual completeness. He perfectly models for us how to serve and to love others the way God wants us to love and serve others.

There is nothing greater than the teachings of Jesus. His words and teachings were not his, but they came from God (John 14:10) who Adopted him as his son at his baptism, anointing him with His Spirit, choosing him among all other sons of men to not only teach, but to BE his teachings – our exemplar in all things.

Jesus said his actions always pleased God (John 8:29) making him our perfect example in all things.

The wonderful message of the Gospel is this: That WE can do all that God asks of us, because another of our kind, Jesus, was able to fully follow God’s commandments and Will for our lives.

But to do as he has done, we must believe that Jesus left us an example that we can really follow.
Jesus teaches: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” And assures us, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 14:15; 13:15.)

Jesus is for us our Model, our Template, our Guide, our Teacher and our Master.

We are first saved from sin by knowledge of his teachings – that we must repent of our sins, turn our faces to God, and walk in righteousness. When we repent of our sins and pledge to walk in God’s righteous paths, we are forgiven by God, who is, “merciful and gracious, long-suffering – forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin." (Exodus 34:6-7)

The Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus tell us that God forgives our sins simply upon sincere repentance.

Jesus tells us God wishes us to repent of our sins – to be sorry that we committed them, and to cease committing the act of sinning. But without a change in our behavior following this, there is no repentance. Without repentance, we are not following Jesus or serving God.

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 Righteousness, to serve God not money, to lose ourselves and gain eternity.

Jesus clearly calls us to a life of Good Works, done in humility and compassion. Service to others leads us to Spiritual Completeness.

"By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk the same way in which he walked." (1 John 2:5-6.) 

Jesus challenges us to become Spiritually Complete by actively seeking and DOING Righteousness, relying on God’s holy Spirit to strengthen us and give us courage to do what is right, and true, and just.

Each of us can grow within us a Spiritual Abundance that gives light and hope to the world, and advances God’s Kingdom here and now, in this place.

Let us take up the challenge Jesus makes clear for us in his Gospel’s words and teachings!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Turning to God IS the Gospel of Jesus. #JesusFollowers

The doctrine of repentance and remission of sin were what Christ Jesus was chiefly concerned to proclaim to the world; because as mankind was far from conforming their minds and lives to that rule of righteousness which ought to have been the measure of their actions.

He not only called upon sinners to repent and turn to God, and do works fit for repentance, but he also plainly and expressly declared this was the very end and purpose of his coming.

To preach the Gospel, and to preach the doctrines of repentance and remission of sins is in Christ's are the same thing; for what he calls preaching the gospel at one time, he calls preaching the doctrines of repentance and remission of sins at another.

Christ Jesus has pointed out to sinners no other way to the Divine mercy and forgiveness, than the good old way, namely, by repentance and reformation of their evil ways, which always was, and always will be the true and only way for sinners to obtain the divine mercy. This is the way which God by his prophets previously pointed out to the sinful nation of Israel. 

Thus Isaiah says: “Wash yourselves, make yourself clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do well. Seek justice. Relieve the oppressed. Judge the fatherless. Plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17.) Which is the same as if he had said: though your sins are many and great; yet upon your repentance and reformation they shall be forgiven.

Christ requires and recommends a conformity of mind and life to that rule of action which is founded in the reason of things, and makes or declares that compliance to be the sole ground of divine acceptance, and the only way to life eternal.

He also laid down some general principles of action, namely, the doing as we would have done to us, the loving of God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and the loving our neighbor as ourselves (from general principles, since they are founded in reason.)

And this law of reason is fitly called the law of Christ, as he specially and strictly requires our compliance with it, and declares that compliance to be the sole ground of divine acceptance, in distinction from, and in opposition to that law of ceremonies or positive institutions which Moses had delivered to the Jews, and which therefore was called the law of Moses.

He also represented to us the good and bad consequences which would most certainly attend our compliance, or noncompliance with this law, with regard to the favor or displeasure of God, and their safety or miscarriage in another world.

In his most excellent Sermon on the Mount, after he had shown what attitude and behavior his Disciples and followers ought to put on, and what to avoid; he then represented to them the mighty consequences which depended upon such their attitudes and actions.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’” (Matt. 7:21-24.)

Here we see as great pretensions –  professing Christ, prophesying in his name – this availed nothing; because they were lacking in that which upon their acceptance with God solely depended; namely, conforming their attitudes and actions to the law of righteousness.

By believing in him, it is clear that Christ did not mean a bare assent to the truth; but he means by it the attending to that message which he was sent to deliver to the world, and the governing our minds and lives according to it.

(Adapted from “The Gospel of Christ Asserted,” by Thomas Chubb, 1738)