Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Use of Life and its Purpose #JesusFollowers

Who is born for himself? Who is not capable of serving others? Who exists independently of a generation, to the advantage of which he may, in various ways, contribute?

Some possess a superior understanding: others are endowed with ingenuity. One man has strength, and another man has quickness and dexterity. The heart of one is firm and courageous: the heart of another melting and compassionate.

A paternal inheritance enriches one; prosperity another. Some are surrounded by friends and relatives; others having few or no private ties, are at liberty to embrace more public objects. Power and rank are talents of extensive influence.

But the lowest and poorest of the children of men have some sphere of service. In fact, what are we all but links in one great chain; members of one community, of which God is the father and head? A duty lies upon each one of us to support his own place in the world with a generous regard to those who are around him. Otherwise our powers and talents cannot have their full exercise, and the purposes of our existence will be very partially answered.

We cannot enjoy our own full and proper share of happiness, except by seeking that of others, and promoting it. There are various affections which draw us out of ourselves, and even the selfish passions find their full gratification in society only. He who serves his generation most effectually, serves himself. He has more and purer joys. He has a higher aim and more enlarged view. His existence promotes a great variety of purposes; and acquires a dignity from the generosity of his aims, and an importance from the extent of his services. He feels himself of some consequence in the creation; and he gains influence, which is so much power over mankind.

The blessings and benefits, which we derived from those who went before us, we perpetuate and hands down to those who succeed us. The lasting effects of our useful and active services will be felt, when we are no more: and when we have ceased to breathe, we will, by the effects of our exertions, continue to bless the world.

The knowledge, the liberty, the truth, virtue and happiness, which in our generation we advanced, will survive our powers of activity, and lay a foundation for higher degrees of improvement and perfection through the next and succeeding generations.

To fulfill this duty properly and to secure the best fruits of it, it is necessary that the active life be formed and regulated by the will of God.

To do the will of God by serving our generation; to be the benevolent and active agents of God in improving the virtue, alleviating the misery, and advancing the felicity of mankind, is an object to be coveted. Esteem, love, reputation, every blessing attend a life thus devoted to piety in the exercise of benevolence. The purpose of such a life is peace and hope!

(Adapted from an Oct. 27, 1793 sermon by Rev. Joshua Toulmin)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Message of Jesus: Change, Love, Act, and Serve. #JesusFollowers

To follow Jesus is to follow the one whom we believe God chose and commissioned from among us human beings to be our template and example to follow in all things. 

This Jesus calls us to be fully transformed and changed by his teachings, and these teachings of his are the only basis for an authentic faith in his God and our God.

These teachings of Jesus call us to action, to change our lives, to change our attitudes, to change our behaviors, and to shed our false but stubborn beliefs, so that we may become the authentic human beings God wants us to become.

What does he call us to do?

First, Jesus says we must change.  Jesus, along with the Hebrew prophets who came before him, called people to “repent” which means to feel sorry for falling short of God’s will for our lives in our actions. To repent means that we are ready to change our actions and to seek to be better people, whether we’ve never sought this before or whether we’ve simply become lazy in our religious lives. We all come before God “as we are,” but we must not expect to remain unchanged by the message Jesus preaches – we are transformed by it into something better, more whole, more complete. (Psalm 51:17; Mark 6:12: Matt. 4:17; Luke 13:5)

Then Jesus calls us to Love. We are not called by Jesus to just strongly “like” people and things, but to Love them – a pure, strong, holy Love that transcends our trivial reasons for liking or hating people or objects. Jesus calls us to direct this Love both toward God and our neighbors. God, meaning the One, authentic, indivisible, and invisible God of Israel, Yahweh; and our neighbors, being those who are around us. And yet, we are not to just Love those who Love us back, but those who don’t even know us, and even those who hate us. THAT is the pure Love that Jesus calls us to show. (Matt. 5:44; 6:7; Mark 12:30; Luke 6:27)

Jesus calls us to Act. The faith Jesus preached is never supposed to be a lazy faith. Jesus does not call us to simply meditate on God, or on him, nor can we simply send vain words to Heaven and think  that we’ve done God’s will. Only those who act on his teachings are his servants. And it is our Righteous actions alone that God wishes us to identify as “our faith.” (Psalm 11:7; Matt. 7:21; Matt. 7:22-24; 1 James 1:2; 2:17; John 3:7)

Jesus calls us to Serve. Jesus says we are to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to house the homeless, to comfort and show compassion to those who in anguish. These aren’t throw-away lines in a play no one is watching.

These words and teachings of Jesus’ weren’t meant for another age, or simply to show us how HE acted, but didn’t expect us to do them, too (as if we could, by simply reading his actions, claim them as our own, vicariously.) Jesus assures us that we can do all that he did. Only those who are seeking to act on his words are his friends. We love him by seeking to do as he did, and nothing less. (Matt. 7:24, 13;31; John 8:31; John 14:12)

And what happens when we fall short of Jesus’ teachings, and the high standards God sets for our lives? Jesus calls us to ask for God’s forgiveness, and assures us that God is endlessly merciful and forgiving. God is pleased when we seek to step back on the path of Righteousness, like a child returning to his Father. (Matt. 5:7; Luke 15)

Jesus teaches us to endlessly and without hesitation extend forgiveness to others, in the same way God forgives those who return to him in repentance. When asked how many times we must forgive others, Jesus said, "70 times 7 times." (Matt. 18:21-22; Luke 17:3-4; Ex. 33:19)

This Jesus-centered religion of service – active service built on pure Love – is what Jesus calls us all to practice. And this man, Jesus, not only teaches us what God expects of us, he gives us an example that we, too, can follow. If we follow this example, we please God, who is both our Creator and Judge, and we will not only live a more whole, complete and joyful life here, but will, God-willing, rest with Him eternally.

So, let us Work Righteousness in this world, doing all we can to be an example of the light of God that was born within us, kindled into Good Works by the saving example of Jesus, and inflamed by God's ongoing help and graceful encouragement.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Faith of #Jesus Is Not A "Mystery." #JesusFollowers

The Ancient Roman and Greek world had many "mystery" religions, faiths that promised to save the souls of those who joined them after undergoing an initiation ritual. Certain "mysteries" were revealed to initiates during this initiation, and thereafter. They were withheld forever from those who were not initiated, and did not join.

But the religion that Jesus taught was NOT a mystery religion. Jesus taught nothing that his disciples were not capable of understanding, nothing mysterious, and nothing needing further explanation. It was, in fact, the duty of his disciples to understand what he was saying.

While we cannot know all that God knows until we go to see our Creator's face in the hereafter, we know all we need to know about Him and His plans for us in this life if we know the teachings of Jesus, who said "EVERYTHING that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." (Matt. 15:15)

Further, Jesus said it should be required of his disciples that they should both hear and understand what he delivered, "Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word."  (John 8:43)

We are called by Jesus to love our God with all of our understanding. To love God, says Jesus, "with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." (Mark 12:33) In this, Jesus echoes the Prophet Hosea, to whom God said, "For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD rather than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:6)

Yet today, we're still told to accept many of the man-made doctrines of the established Church, without either questioning or understanding them, because they are supposedly things we as human beings cannot understand.

But we must resist the urge to give in to the idea that a man-created doctrine or belief is correct because it is contrary to Reason, or because it seems "mysterious" to our minds.

Jesus condemned those who would lock up God's wisdom and the knowledge of God so that others couldn't have it. He said, "Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering." (Luke 11:52)

Jesus alone is sufficient for our understanding. We need to seek out no other man, no other teachings, no other 'interpretations' of Jesus' Gospel to discover how to live as God intends us to live, and how to please God.

Any "mysterious" doctrines that have been taught under the name of Christianity, which we lowly humans are supposedly incapable of understanding, should be rejected, so that we can regain the clear picture Jesus gave us: a plain, simple and powerful Gospel:

Jesus, the one chosen by our creator, God, as His spokesman, calls all people to turn to God and repent of their past misdeeds, seeking instead to live in Godly righteousness, completely motivated by a pure love for God and our fellow human beings. We are to humbly and selflessly perform Good Works on their behalf so that God's Righteous Kingdom will be established here and now on this earth. Jesus lived and died as an example of this path which we are called to follow, just as he did.

It is the duty of every follower of Jesus to oppose and discredit any other doctrines that contradict this simple and profound path. They throw doubt on the validity of Jesus' teachings, make his ministry seem incomplete, and turn his faith into a pagan exercise in mystery, secrets and falsehoods.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Security Of Walking In Virtue #JesusFollowers

"Whoever walks in integrity walks securely." (Prov. 10:9)

Jesus, the Savior of men, has prepared the Way for the most extensive exercise of benevolence. And of the fruits of this benevolence, those will hereafter partake, who walk, not according to the course of this world, but the dictates of an honest and virtuous mind. The Gospel teaches us to entertain these expectations.

To “walk,” in the scripture’s style, is to lead a particular course of life. Thus to walk honestly or deceitfully, to walk in light or darkness, is to live righteously or wickedly in the world.

Accordingly, when we read that, “Enoch walked with God" the meaning is, that he lived piously; that he did not fall into the prevailing sins of his generation, but set an example of godliness and virtue. On the other hand, John says, "He who hates his brother, walks in darkness." In other words, he is no good Christian, who goes along a course of life directly contrary to the Gospel. To walk uprightly is to have a constant regard to God and His commandments, in the general course of life. It is to persevere in the steady practice of religious duty.

It is, in short, to be a habitually Good Man. Such a person walks surely, that is, acts a safe part, and is not in danger of losing his best interest or bringing upon him any disgrace or misery beyond the grave.

The sum, then, of the wise man's observation is this: that he who in the whole course of his life acts sincerely and justly, soberly and devoutly; who is not in appearance only, but in reality, a good man; that kind of person will be finally secure, whatever may be the course of human events.

To walk as a Christian is to walk surely; while, on the other hand, to walk differently is to enter on a path beset with dangers, and which may, to say the least, conduct to perdition. The religion of Jesus is from heaven, or it is from men. If from Heaven, then, by submitting to its Laws, we discharge an indispensable duty. 

We obey God, and do that which is right itself, and right in His eyes. But we incur no guilt, if our religion is from men; our obedience in this case will not be imputed to us as a crime. Our moral Governor will never reproach us because we directed our lives by a rule which we imagined He had prescribed.

But if professors of the Gospel have walked unworthy of it, does that authorize a contempt, or neglect of the system itself? So far from it, they who offer this excuse, should become the advocates for Christianity, and should endeavor, by their own good example, to rescue it from contempt.

They should display in their temper and lives the excellence of the institution. This would be far more rational than to despise religion, because it is sometimes wounded in the house of its friends.

Let us always keep in view the bright example of our blessed Master. He ever expressed the most ardent love, the most profound reverence, the most unfeigned confidence, and the most cordial submission to the blessed God.

As we are honored with his name, let us cultivate his temperament. 

Let the knowledge and love of the Deity be our distinguishing accomplishment: so shall we have within us a fruitful source of tranquility and joy. As our devotion becomes habitual, we shall become wiser and better. In affliction we shall have a divine support; in temptation a sure defense. Our virtue will stand on an immoveable foundation.

(Adapted from the Sermon, “The Virtue of a Virtuous Course” by Rev. John Clarke, 1755-1798)