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.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Human Beings: Created To Advance! [#JesusFollowers]

Improvement is a law of the Universe. All things, great and small, are made to improve and progress. Human beings must not be an exception.

We must not allow everything else to move on, while we remain stationary. When the insensible earth and the irrational animals obey the commandment of Nature, let not us, who alone are capable of voluntary obedience, alone be unfaithful.

When even the all-wise Creator, in unfolding His ways and purposes to His children, observes this rule of constant progression, let not us, with wisdom only of yesterday, children in understanding, think that we may rest where we are, and refuse to move forward.

Our very capacity of progress is itself a further reason for striving after perpetual improvement. The plants and animals around us have limits set to their advancement which they can never pass.

They go forward by a prescribed course to their maturity, and there they necessarily stop. The voice which spake to the sea, “Thus far shall you go, and no farther,” has spoken to all things terrestrial except us.

From that mandate our spirit is exempted. The tree has its growth, and the bird its instinct, and they can add to themselves nothing beyond it. Human beings, reasoning, immortal, immaterial beings, to whom the inspiration of the Almighty has given understanding, has received the power of expansion. Our souls may grow - not like the body, which is to perish in about a hundred years, and therefore becomes perfect in twenty; but, as it is never to perish, it never reaches a perfection beyond which it may not pass.

If the soul's duration were bounded by a thousand years, or a hundred thousand centuries, then we might anticipate the day when its growth should be completed. But since it shall exist through eternity, since it can never approach the termination of its existence, neither can it approach the termination of its progress. It must enlarge, extend itself, and continue to advance.

So, other creatures may stop growing, and become stationary; for they are to come to an end. But not human beings, for we are to know no end. Others may be satisfied with a perfection which earth can understand and contain; for they are of the earth, and shall return to its bosom.

But human beings are children of the Most High, our spirit a ray from the fountain of unquenchable light, made capable of attainments which earthly beings cannot hardly imagine. Let us not dream that any present attainment is our perfection; let us press forward to that mark - that something immense and infinite -  which Jesus has set before us as the prize of our high calling.

For us to be stationary would be rebellion against our nature, a willful forfeiting of our birthright, and should subject us to the harsh reproaches of our own minds, and to the deserved scorn of all higher and lower beings.

This great progress of the human soul is only begun upon earth. But it is begun. The desire of purity, the love of excellence, the habits of holiness, the relish for spiritual pleasures, are begun here below; and ones who have made the greatest advances in these during their mortal lives, are doubtless best fitted for entering into a future state. This thought suggests to us another reason for improvement.

The degree of happiness and glory to which the soul shall be admitted at death, must depend on the progress which it has made on Earth. In our Father's house are many mansions; differing unquestionably in order offense. And how are they to be assigned? What says the Scripture? “According to their works,” for “He that has been faithful in little, shall be placed over few cities; he that has been faithful in much, shall be placed over many cities.” (Luke 16:10; Matt. 25:23)

Happiness and honor shall be rendered to every person according to their preparation for them and their capacity to receive them. And our capacity to receive will be just in proportion to the state of advancement at which we have arrived on leaving the present scene.

And the soul that issues from its mortal tabernacle a trembling, anxious penitent, - just "assured" that its sins are forgiven, but without any confirmed religious experience, or spiritual maturity of character - cannot enter at once into the fulness of bliss which awaits the faithful servant of God, who has toiled for duty during a long life, and become almost spiritualized before laying aside the body.

Therefore let us strive to be found, at our death, so far advanced in holiness, that we may join the company of those who stand nearest to the throne; that we may be ushered into the light of the highest heaven.

(Adapted from a Sermon by Henry Ware, Jr.)

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Talk is Cheap. Walk the Talk. [#JesusFollowers]

Talk is cheap. It’s easy to talk, but hard to work. Human beings naturally incline towards inertia. We like to remain still, to be lazy, to take shortcuts, and to avoid hard work whenever possible. 

This isn’t to say we cannot overcome this inertia, or that inertia is somehow inevitable. But it’s something we have to recognize in order to overcome it.

This is true not only in our work life, but also of our religious life, because we like to take shortcuts, to avoid work, and to win the race of faith without ever putting our running shoes on – or even getting out of bed, if we can avoid it!

But that’s just not how God has designed religion, if we are to believe Jesus, whose words challenge us to a vigorous faith comprised of Good Works, and promise that these works result in our salvation.

It's cheap (and easy) to say that we need not do Good Works to please God. It’s easy to follow the path leading through what Jesus calls "the Wide Gate" by saying that our behavior is only “extra” stuff that we do for Others – our little crumbs from the table we give to God as “gifts” of grudging gratitude – because (we assure ourselves) we're going to be awarded salvation by God regardless of how we act. 

Good Works, if done at all, are optional on our part, some assert, and if they are done to please God, they’re actually “filthy” and unacceptable in His sight. Thus, we have rationalized practicing a lazy, self-centered religion.

The problem with this line of thinking is that Jesus teaches us just the opposite approach. 

Jesus clearly, and repeatedly, taught that if we claim to follow him, we are saved not by our faith alone, but by OUR WORDS (Matt. 12:37) and will be judged and rewarded in Heaven by OUR DEEDS (Matt. 16:27/2 Cor. 5:10.) Only those who seek to obey God’s Moral Law will see eternal life.

"And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.” (Mark 10:17-19.)

Jesus could have said, “Just have a belief that a deity of some sort exists, and you’ll be instantly awarded eternal life by God.” Instead, he told him, in effect, “You know God, and Know His Law; Now Walk in it – Walk what you Talk.”

It's a very cheap grace indeed (as Bonhoeffer phrased it) - by which we presume to command God to accept a once-in-a-lifetime, emotional confession in His Son as a 'ticket' to eternal life. Jesus says that simply crying out “Lord, Lord!” without doing the Will of the Father is insufficient (Matt. 7:21-27.) We thus cheapen God's offer by treating it cheaply.

Just like simply enrolling in a College doesn't permit us to view ourselves as instant graduates - without any requirement to attend classes or do the required coursework - belief is only a first step in our faith. Simply professing belief, without accompanying it with active Good Works, is not enough (James 2:19.) 

Obeying God’s chosen spokesman, Jesus (John 8:51; 14:23) and abiding in him (John 8:31) and (in the most radical text of the entire New Testament) walking “just as he walked” (1 John 2:6) is what is required.

Jesus always echoed the Hebrew Scriptures regarding God's view of our deeds. The Psalmist records, "For Yahweh is righteous; He loves righteous deeds; the upright shall see His face." (Psalms 11:7) and "Surely the righteous will praise Your name; the upright will dwell in Your presence." (140:

He told us, "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 7:13-14.)

All the while as we walk our spiritual journey of Faith, let us remember that we are to rely constantly and in humility on God's continual forgiveness and His Spirit to guide, strengthen and encourage us, for we aren't presuming to do this on our own, though we are empowered to walk in the steps of our Master, and we are assured that we CAN do it (Deut. 30:11) by seeking to walk in his steps.