Sunday, June 28, 2020

We Are Given Moral Freedom By God! #JesusFollowers

Jesus, in the establishment of his religion, did not force his followers to accept him. He taught every essential religious truth, made laws for their behavior, and spoke to them with persuasive words.

He then left them to act freely, so the happiness of his disciples might be the reward of obedience, which flows from an enlightened mind and a teachable attitude.

Our Master exhibited the clearest proof of a divine mission. By his life, he displayed the moral worth of his character. He called on his followers to examine his doctrines, to reflect on his works, and to weigh the actions of his life; and for themselves receive his words, obey his commands, and rely on his promises.

Jesus recognized powers in us to judge the evidence on which his religion is founded, and to perceive that his instructions conformed to the unchangeable laws of truth. A number of important inferences may be drawn from this appeal of our Master to the human mind. One is that religion is a rational and voluntary service.

God has given us the attributes of reason and liberty. These make us the subject of a moral government, and make us capable of virtuous action. Take away these abilities, and we cease to be subject to reward or punishment.

To make any course of action good, in a moral sense, an agent must be conscious of duty, and have the ability and power to do it. 

Actions in which the will of the agent have no place have no virtuous properties; and doing those actions cannot be called "moral." The way in which the human mind is used determines our moral character. Our actions create the morality of human conduct.

Having the Reason to distinguish good from evil, and the liberty to choose the one and refuse the other, make us capable of moral conduct and moral self-government. If our freedom and agency is taken away, we are no better than animals, or we become like mere machines.

It is the duty of human beings to enlighten their minds about religion. To act rationally and freely in the important aspects of our faith, we must know its foundation, and learn its essential truths and duties.

We cannot consistently perform the duties of religion, while ignorant of its first principles, any more than we can converse intelligibly in a language with which we are unacquainted.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Aaron Bancroft) 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The True Parentage of #Jesus, (And Why It Matters) [#JesusFollowers]

"This day, I have begotten you"
On this Father’s Day, we celebrate our fathers and those who have been fathers to us, influencing our lives and making us the people we are today.

As followers of Jesus, we look to him as a father figure, but also as a brother – a fellow member of the Human Race who also looked to *his* father and those who were father figures in his life. How we view Jesus is important because he is our God-anointed example and God's spokesman on earth.

Jesus was adopted. But Joseph, the husband of Mary, wasn't the one who adopted him, as we have all been taught. The adoptive father of Jesus was none other than God, the Creator of the Universe. How do we know this? We can find it right there in the Gospel stories.

Jesus was chosen by God (Matt. 12:18; Luke 9:35; 23:35) anointed by God (Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38) and sent by God (Mark 9:37; Matt. 9:38; Luke 9:48; John 5:37). At his baptism, God’s voice says, "You are my Son, this day I have begotten you," thus becoming his father by adoption (Luke 3:22, Acts 13:33, Psalms 2:7). In early manuscripts of the Gospels, Joseph is clearly spoken of as the father and Mary as the mother of Jesus. In Luke 2:48, for example, his mother, Mary, says to Jesus, when he had wandered off, "Your father and I have been looking for you."

In Matthew (13:55) he is easily recognized by others as fully human and part of a human family, saying, “Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?

Joseph was by all accounts a good father to Jesus, taking him to Jerusalem every year, performing everything according to the Law, and it is said that Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:39-41; 52)

The early church spoke of Jesus as a man, chosen by God. In Peter’s sermons in Acts, he speaks of him as, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God (Acts 2:22) and “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good.” (Acts 13:38.) Jesus is spoken of as a man’s offspring, the direct descendant of David (Acts. 13:23) and according to the Genealogy provided in the Gospels, this must be through his father, Joseph.

Thus, the early church that gathered in Jerusalem after the death of Jesus and his return to God in the resurrection, saw Jesus as a man, chosen by God, sent by God and adopted by God at his baptism to proclaim a Good and Beneficial Message to mankind, the Gospel, calling on all to repent. It could be no other way, since the Jewish Jesus Followers of that age (before the destruction of Jerusalem) continued to attend the Temple there every day.

If we believe this, what does it mean to us? What difference does it REALLY make if Jesus was adopted by God or was instead created by the seed of God Himself – an otherworldly being who was only adopted and raised by Joseph?

Jesus’ full humanity is vital to our ability to obey Jesus. Jesus tells us we must obey God and following the example of Jesus as a perfect role model of that behavior.

The Adoption of Jesus by God preserved the humanity of Jesus, allowing us to rely on his example and see through him a “Clear Glass” what God wishes for us all.

If Jesus is divine, fully or even partially, the example of Jesus that he set for us can be portrayed as meaningless as goals, because, it can be said, we cannot hope to accomplish them. They make his message and commands meaningless, too, and turns him into a mocker or a false prophet, urging us to do what cannot possibly be done – to be exactly like a half-man/half-God, a demigod, who was endowed in a way that we are not.

The church of Christendom today (specifically Protestant Christendom) believes exactly this: that we cannot be like Jesus, the Demigod, so we should not even try to do the Good Works that he commanded. We can, they say, only believe “on” him in order to gain his goodness and righteousness magically, by our mere words and beliefs, and that full obedience of Jesus’ commands is literally impossible.

But this makes not only Joseph, but Jesus, into an irrelevancy. It makes obedience seem impossible. It makes the words of Jesus into a mockery, and we know that Jesus himself said that his words would “not pass away” even as he said the Jewish world around his followers would.

Today, we must look to Jesus as the son of a human father – a man adopted by God to be the specially anointed Prophet who brings us a message that liberates us and elevates us, telling us that we MAY and MUST obey God and become righteous in our deeds, not just in our intentions and mere words, always relying humbly on God for strength to become more like His adopted Son, Jesus. That is the message of the Gospel, pure and simple. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

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 Jesus' 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 fulfill 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, June 7, 2020

Reason And Revelation, Together! #JesusFollowers

There are two witnesses: the witness for God which He has placed in every mind - the revelation of His spirit in the rational and immortal soul of man; and the Reason which we have the capacity of exercising in conformity to His spirit.

Reason can do nothing by itself; therefore, it is only to decide which things are revealed to us by God’s light. Our Reason would be dormant, were it not for revelation. The light of the outward sun is a beautiful index of the Son of heaven, as it reveals all things on our earth; and until it shines upon our earth, Reason lies dormant.

We are thus enabled to speak of things, to regulate things, to add to and diminish from things; and thus, under the operation of Reason, we can make them in a measure useful; in a measure a blessing to us.

Here we see the ability of this Reason; and Reason must always be subject to revelation. It knows nothing till revelation gives it materials, by which the soul can act upon them, and improve them.

Let all our faculties be rightly exercised; let right Reason and Revelation go hand in hand; for Reason is the most noble part of the creature; it gives a distinction between thing and thing. And as it is a gift of God, so we shall find that it is fully so - a gift to the soul.

We are all to attend to our own salvation: and if we are concerned to do this, will we give way to notions that will hinder this salvation? God is to judge of these things; and man is only to judge of the overt acts of his fellow creatures - such as have a tendency to injure his fellow creatures.

But if a brother or sister seeks to do all their duties, consistent with the will of God Almighty, we have no right to judge any farther than this, "By their fruits ye shall know them."

We know that love and good works are the only fruits of the right and good tree: but the contrary fruit is the fruit of thorns and briars always and perpetually.

Adapted from a sermon by Elias Hicks, 1827