Sunday, October 10, 2021

What More Are We Doing Than Others? #JesusFollowers



"What more are you doing than others?" Matt. 5:47

The discourse of our Master of which these words are a part was addressed to his first followers, and especially those who were afterwards Apostles, and preachers of the gospel.

In it, he explains what was their proper character, their station, and their duty; setting them in as striking a light as possible. "You," he says, "are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and a city set upon a hill."

They were to be the public instructors of mankind, ambassadors, as it were, from God, sent by him for the great purpose of persuading a sinful world to abandon their vices, and sinful customs, and to devote themselves to a life of virtue, with a view towards a happy immortality.

It was expected that they should be examples to others, that their lives might illustrate their doctrine. As they were supposed to know more than others, so it would be reasonably expected that they should do more than others.

And in what ways our Master’s disciples should seek to outdo others, he tells them; and the instances he mentions are indeed most worthy of our ambition. Namely, to strive to carry the generous virtues of benevolence, forgiveness of injuries, and the desire to live useful lives, to the greatest height.

He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” And as an incentive to a virtue so seemingly above humanity, he annexes this noble motive, “so that you may be sons of your Father who is 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.”

Pursuing the same argument, he adds, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

To act in this manner with such true greatness of mind, and disinterested benevolence, is to act the part that the almighty and infinitely benevolent maker of all things continually acts, it is to be as the sons of God, doing the work of our heavenly father. 

Could a nobler principle or a nobler cause of action be proposed to mankind or could they be enforced by a more powerful and worthy motive.

To be governed by these principles, and to act in this manner is to approach as near to the sentiments and conduct of Divinity, as is permitted to mortals.

The religion of Christ lays us under obligation to live as he did, to resemble him in the temper our minds, and the course of our conduct, to obey his commands, and to copy his example, is to confess him before men, and such only as confess him in this manner, will he confess, and acknowledge to be his, before his heavenly Father.

Are we trained up in the sound belief that nothing but a good heart and an exemplary life are pleasing to Almighty God, and will recommend us to his favor and acceptance? Is this our faith? 

So pure and spiritual a profession lays us under obligations to live lives in the highest degree pure and spiritual, worthy of a pure and undefiled religion.

The end [goal] of all knowledge is practice, and it would ill become us to show the zeal that we do by forming ourselves into separate societies, and being at the expense of supporting them, by which we hold out to the world our idea of their importance, if we thought they were merely matters of speculation, and had no connection with moral duty.

Let our lives be as pure, as our sentiments, equally worthy of God and of Christ Jesus, and we shall be indeed the light. of the world, the salt of the earth, and a city that is set upon a hill.

Let us not be ashamed of our good confession. I trust we are bearing a public testimony in favor of the purity of. the worship of the one true God, amidst a corrupt and idolatrous generation.

Let all those persons who are possessed of whatever themselves and the world consider as advantages, ask themselves what they do more than others, who are lacking them.

Better for us to be poor, than to be rich and not generous; to be fools, than to be knaves; and to have been taught nothing at all, than to make a bad use of superior knowledge. It would have been better for us never to have heard of Christ than to be Christians in name only, and not in deed and in truth.


(Adapted from a sermon by Dr. Joseph Priestley, “On the Necessity of Self-Examination,” 1805)

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Called By #Jesus To Serve Others First! #JesusFollowers

More than anything else, following the path that Jesus sets out for us means serving others first.

Contrary to nearly Universal popular opinion, accepting the way of Jesus is not primarily a self-centered means by which we can personally, and effortlessly, get ourselves into heaven, or a way to simply enrich ourselves here on earth, at the expense of others.

In fact, the teachings of Jesus tell us explicitly that those who seek to be first, and that those who seek personal gain above others, will be last in God's Kingdom.

"Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:27-28)

"The greatest among you shall be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matt. 23:11-12)

"And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 8:39)

God, our Father and the Creator of all things, has chosen (John 1:34) and anointed (Luke 4:18) this man, Jesus, to be our perfect example in all things, showing us of what we are capable.

We are called through the example and words of Jesus to seek to do righteousness, to forgive others just as God forgives us, to be good examples to others, and to bring God's Heavenly Kingdom into the Earth through our daily actions.

This, and this alone, is the Kingdom that Jesus preached, and we should seek everyday to conform ourselves to it.

It's clear that Jesus calls us all to a life of action and Good Works on behalf of others. Every one of our actions in our daily lives should show to others how God wishes humanity to relate to one another and to our Creator.

We are called to act selflessly, in the service of others. And Jesus left us a template by which we can act as God wishes us to act here on this earth.

We are called, not to judge, or to only mouth praise to God or to Jesus, nor to hope someone else acts, but instead, we are ourselves called to act righteously and justly in our dealings with others.

The example of Jesus - a human being like ourselves - shows us that we are ABLE to act, and have from birth the moral ability to act, on behalf of others. And it is our duty to do so, without excuse.

Feed the hungry; clothe the naked; comfort the sick; welcome the stranger; visit those in prison. (Matt. 25:31-39) Jesus never shirked his duty to serve others, even washing the feet of the disciples as a sign of his humility and how he was living as a "ransom" to others. (John 13) 

When others teach, and preach, that we can serve OURSELVES first, or that we may enrich ourselves without caring for others, or that God can be used exclusively to grant our material, selfish desires, it becomes easy to forget who our Master is, and that because we have one Master and one Teacher (Matt. 23:8-10) Jesus' words alone are to be our pathway to the life God wishes us to live. 

Jesus calls us to follow his example in all things. Let us commit to doing this, collectively as followers of Jesus and on our own in our daily lives.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

We Possess The God-Given Gift of Reason #JesusFollowers

All of us are born with the God-given gift of Reason, the ability to think, analyze and question, and we are called to use that gift for the glory of God, the advancement of His spiritual Kingdom, and for the benefit of those around us.

Reason and Faith aren't opposed to one another, but are instead 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 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.

The Book of Proverbs begins with a beautiful poem praising wisdom, understanding, Reason and knowledge:

"To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth  - Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Prov. 1:2-7)

God has created us as thinking beings, capable of perceiving, learning, growing, and expanding in knowledge and great understanding.

By use of Reason, we can either choose to understand the words God and His spokesman, Jesus, sends us for our own benefit, or choose freely to HATE knowledge, wisdom and reproof, turning our backs on God and those whom He sent us. We will "eat the fruits of our way" if we do so, however (Prov. 1:29-31) and will be judged according to our Works.

Jesus tells us the greatest commandment is to, "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matt. 22:37.) 

Loving with our hearts and our very being (our Souls, our psyche) is one thing, but we are called also to use our MINDS - our understanding and our knowledge. 

These are not dirty words that spit upon faith, and our God does not diminish them at all, nor does his chosen and adopted Son, Jesus.

Some might now cite the Proverb, "Trust in Yahweh with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding," (3:5) and it's certainly true! Anyone who has begun seeking higher education knows how much we simply do NOT know! But a humble acknowledgement of our lack of understanding itself points to our need to acquire it, and God loves those whom he corrects (Prov. 3:11)

When looking at scripture, we therefore must examine it cautiously - rejecting narrow, small-minded Literalism and mindless (often out-of-context) proof-texting - and instead interpret it using our God-given gifts of Reason and common sense, and knowing these books were written by men, selected and chosen for inclusion in a Bible for men, and are interpreted by men.

Just as Jesus tells us the Sabbath was created for us, and not us for the Sabbath, using Reason to examine God's message for us only makes sense.

In our moral lives, as well, we must employ Reason as a tool by which we may be guided.

The theologian (and scientist) Joseph Priestley wrote, encouraging young men in college, "Above all things, be careful to improve and make use of the reason which God has given you, to be the guide of your lives, to check the extravagance of your passions, and to assist you in acquiring that knowledge, without which your rational powers will be of no advantage to you."

We have not been given impossible tasks by our Father or by Jesus. Our senses have not been dulled nor our understandings darkened so much that we cannot turn to God and repent of our shortcomings.

If both Reason and our Hearts, along with our Teacher, Jesus, compel us to obey God, love Him, serve our fellow human beings with every fiber of our being, how can God's Kingdom NOT appear on the earth as we walk it.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Is Jesus Your Friend? #JesusFollowers

 

All of us on Facebook have had a notification pop up, telling us that someone wishes to be our "Facebook friend."

We might notice that they might be a friend of a mutual friend already, and quickly accept their friend request, honored that they have made the connection with us, or that they like our posts.

We all have seen someone on the street with whom we went to grade school or High School. After speaking with them, we may be asked, "Who was that?" And we might reply, "That was a friend from school."

But by "friend," we likely mean that this is someone we happened to know by face or by reputation when we were in school with them. Or, this might actually have been a friend in the sense that you both were extremely close, and shared a circle of other friends with whom you were very close.

So with these examples, we begin to see very quickly that the word "friend" in the English language can mean different things.

Knowing this, what would it mean for someone to say that Jesus is their friend? On the surface, we knew instinctively that the word "friend" doesn't seem to be a strong enough word in relation to our master, Jesus.

"Of course he is our friend," we might say to ourselves, "and much more." If so, we'd be on the right track.

When Jesus himself used the word "friend," he meant it in an altogether more important and stronger way then we casually use it today.

For example, when Jesus was beginning to speak about how he was going to be put to death by those who were in authority in ancient Judea, he told his disciples:
"Greater love has no man than this: to lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)

While we all have friends that we care for us, there are very few, maybe even none, for which we would easily and quickly give up our lives.

Jesus, of course gave up his life, not just on the cross, but throughout his ministry, on behalf of all who heard and followed him, and for all who would follow him, both then and now.

Jesus made this crystal clear when he went on to say, "You are my friends IF you do what I command you." (15:14)

Jesus, therefore, puts upon those who claim friendship with him the responsibility to follow what he's saying with action. 

It is at this point, that many modern Christian preachers would take issue with Jesus. They claim instead that mere belief in the "person" of Jesus, not his teachings, is what can grant us eternity with God. They might claim that his teachings cannot be followed, and that we are unable to do any of the things Jesus did, and have no requirement to attempt to follow those teachings.

But Jesus actually says the opposite. In fact, he is very clear and precise in his teachings, noting:
1 - That following him has costs, responsibilities, and requires obedience, and
2 - That he believes we CAN DO all that he commanded us

Indeed, Jesus says, "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from My Father I have made known to you."

And he clearly teaches that we must seek to obey God's moral commandments if we hope to spend eternity with God (Matt. 10:17, 19)

Further, he says we will do even greater things than he did on earth (John 14:12) and,  "I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you." (John 13:15) Does this sound like an impossible mission he's given us?

The example shown by the teachings of Jesus, of course, was Love - pure, unadulterated, uncluttered, unfiltered love. We are called to love one another, love and serve our neighbors, love our enemies, love and have compassion on those in distress, and love God, our Creator, Who is the focus of all our love and gratitude.

This "yoke" - his teachings - he calls for us to learn from him (Matt. 11:29) and he says it would NOT be a burden, as the barren rituals of the Pharisees had been. (Matt. 11:30; 23:4) If his teachings are not even a burden, they are surely not impossible.

The bottom line is that those who claim to love him will seek to obey his teachings and put them into practice daily, as if they were taking up a cross. (Matt. 16:24) When we put all of his sayings together, they form a remarkably clear and consistent message.

We learn that Jesus said that he was dying an example to his friends, just as his life had been such an example, and that he considered his friends those who obeyed his teachings. Finally, he made it clear that his friends would be able to do all he commanded.

The Good News we hear from the lips of Jesus is truly GOOD, in that it tells us that through the life, teachings and example for God's chosen one, GOD BELIEVES IN US and has given us high standards to achieve.

The Creator Who said "be holy, as I am holy," (Lev. 11:45) and the teacher who called us to be complete just as God is complete (Matt. 5:48) both know of what we are capable.

This same Creator endowed us with gifts, abilities and knowledge that allow us to choose the Good, but also to choose what is evil. It is in rejecting what is evil, repenting of it, and actively choosing the Good that we are considered Righteous by God.

Simply reading the teachings of Jesus puts friendship with him in an entirely new light. If we claim to be his friend, then we will surely make an effort to seek to follow his teachings, and when we stumble in our efforts, Jesus tells us that when the Righteous repent, we will be forgiven by a just and merciful God. (Matt. 6:12; 18:27)

Indeed, in his Great Commission, Jesus called those who followed him to go out into the world telling people to obey ALL that he taught them. (Matt. 28:20)

It's clear from all of these sayings of Jesus, that he believed friendship with him was intimately tied to following his teachings.

When Jesus says "Take up your cross daily and follow me," (Matt. 16:24) he's calling us to join him on a journey of joyful obedience, love, and service, one just as he embarked upon. That, to Jesus, is true friendship!

But if we do not follow his words, if we claim they are too hard, or not necessary, or not relevant for us today, then we are not really following Jesus, but other men's teachings. In fact, we hate him if we reject, warp or minimize his teachings.

If we make up excuses for not obeying his call for us to love and serve others with our Works, we are not worthy of his name. This fully and completely human Jesus that God chose as our example and Master is meant to be followed, not just admired.

If we are truly to be called his friends, as well as his disciples today, we will seek to put the teachings of Jesus at the center of our Lives every day. We can do no less, if we call ourselves Jesus Followers!

Sunday, September 12, 2021

#Jesus Calls Us To Use Our God-Given Gifts #JesusFollowers

 

With his teachings, #Jesus spoke about the great, powerful gifts given to human beings by God, and how we are to use them ACTIVELY to do Good for others.

Jesus, in his parables and sayings, explains that to us much has been given. Much, also, is required of us in return. By this way, we become the mature and perfect Beings that God wishes us to become.

His Parable of the Talents shows this most clearly. We are given gifts by God and are called to use them. Putting them in the ground, or keeping them unused, isn't profitable to the Kingdom of God, nor does it grow our spirits.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that we have both the ability and duty to act to serve and love others, even strangers.

Jesus says that we, as young children, are pure in spirit, able to love the way God wishes us to love as adults (Matt 19:14)

Jesus called us to bring forth good treasure from our hearts and turn it into Good Works in the world (Matt. 12:35.) God is the Author of our first measure of Goodness in our hearts. He calls on us to nurture and replenish it daily.

Jesus says that we may seek the spiritual completion (perfection) of God (Matt. 5:48), that we may forgive as God forgives, and that we may be as merciful as our Father in Heaven is merciful (Luke 6:36)

Knowing all this, we can't call Jesus our lord ("master") and ignore what he commands us to do. He has made it clear that God has equipped us to do Good Works, and calls us to go serve others to the best of our natural, God-given abilities.

Giving of ourselves is not a zero-sum game. Serving others, as Jesus calls us to do, doesn't empty us, it fills us, with joy. Helping others brings us closer to God and to emulating the example God gave us, Jesus, who he anointed and chose at his Baptism for that purpose. We are likewise chosen and sent out to act, daily building up God's spiritual Kingdom.

Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30.) That’s complete and total love that is demonstrated in our active Good Works, not just lip service or weak emotionalism that fades by Sunday afternoon when the churches are empty again.

Jesus and our Heavenly Father, God, have become for many mere SYMBOLS - psychological crutches on which we throw all our work and give THEM our moral tasks. Millions drive to churches to chant and praise Jesus' name and "finished work", all the while, averting their eyes as they pass the homeless, the sick, the discouraged, the grieving widow, the hungry, and the ill-clothed living among them. And we wonder why most people under 30 view traditional Christians as hypocrites!

"Do less" or "do nothing" are easy to sell to today's pew-dwellers, especially Americans. Jesus, by contrast, said we are capable of doing Great things, and called us to go do them. Jesus Followers who hear his words and obey them will seek to actively serve others, using their God-given gifts.

It is clear from the teachings of Jesus that we were created for a purpose: to do more - to do ALL WE CAN - to serve and love one another. This is the reason why we were saved by Jesus from the ignorance of our true Nature, in order to be the beings that God created us to be.

To deny that Jesus taught a Gospel of Good Works and active service is to deny his Gospel entirely. Doing good on behalf of others stands at the very core of the Gospel Jesus preached.

Our Nature isn't that of creatures so damaged that we cannot turn our face to God and repent of past misdeeds or weaknesses. Our Nature is one of Beings who were created with Free Will, able to know and understand our true mission, outlined clearly in the words and demonstrated perfectly in the life of one of us: Jesus. He says this is the way of God. Why would we second guess him?

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Service: The Secret of Success in Life, and The Church #JesusFollowers



“Whoever would be first among you, let him be your servant.” (Matt. 20:27)

As the great fountain of beneficence, we see God with lavish hand pouring forth bounty and blessing upon His creatures and children, ruling the universe with the divine principle of service. As a loving Father, He seeks His children, ever ready to bless. We learn to love Him because He first loves us, as forever our best Friend.

By this principle Jesus rises to the throne of a true lordship, becomes leader and prince in the realm of religion, his church supreme and enduring amid the religions of the world. In darker days, worshiped as Deity, far away and above human experience, the example of Jesus was lost from sight, his mission deemed a sacrifice to pay the penalty of human guilt. 

Later days begin to see him more truly as the Gospels portray him, loving Friend and Helper. Because by life and word he served humanity, he is lovingly enshrined in millions of hearts. Our practical world and time are fast coming to care little for dogmatic opinions and dead debates of his nature. That Jesus brings a power of blessing for today welcomes and enthrones him in high place as divine example and best spiritual leader.

Walking in his footsteps and cherishing his spirit, our lives become unselfish and helpful with a loving service that renders the humblest Christ-like and God-like.

All legitimate business is a mutual service, with both parties benefited. As commerce runs its lines around the globe, civilization is tending to bind into one brotherhood the whole human family, fulfilling the sentiment of the fine Swiss motto, "Each for all, and all for each."

Everywhere and forever genuine service is the supreme secret of true success. Whatever best serves human need will win the glad homage of the human heart, will go to the front, will conquer and command. This is true alike for persons and peoples, nations and churches.

June days of every year are sending forth from academies, seminaries, and colleges a great host of young men and women, graduated to start upon their life career. As they enter upon the busy arena of practical affairs, comes to each the sharp summons: Do some good work or get out of the way!

By this ruling life principle, each speedily becomes weighed and measured, tested and judged. Does one ask supremely for some soft place of easiest work and largest pay, to settle down in selfish indulgence, ignoble comfort and content? He is speedily ignored and forgotten.

Whomever asks supremely for the greatest opportunity, open field for best work for which their ability is adequate, nobly consecrates themselves, unselfishly does their best, doors speedily open to them. Higher opportunities seek them. People love and honor them. Living or dying, they go in, on, and up to heights of usefulness and renown.

The law of service applies equally to institutions. It is true of the Church.

Soon after the death of Jesus and his apostles, the pure, simple, practical gospel they preached became obscured by heathen traditions that still linger in popular theology. The flowing stream has gathered sediment.

We seek to filter it, and get the pure, living water, to restore and apply to life the original gospel preached by Jesus.

We seek to welcome and keep pace with advancing intelligence. It offers no mystical or miraculous plan of salvation, but by practical righteousness would turn the wilderness into a garden.

But the better day among us is dawning, the missionary spirit awakening, and pushing its way into every open door of opportunity for service. Primarily we come hither for worship, for inspiration and guidance, for friendly fellowship, for comfort in sorrow and good cheer in daily living.

 The church’s larger purpose is not only for worship, but for work; not only to get good, but to do good. While old dogmas and forms are passing away, the ideal church of the future we hope here to realize.

The true church is not a concert or lecture hall of luxurious surroundings, with an audience of passive hearers to be entertained with sweet music and eloquent preaching. 

It is a congregation, a coming together, a union of souls joining hearts and hands for good work. 

The true church is not an aristocratic club, composed of a few select, superior saints, but, as in Galilee, a company of the common people who heard Jesus gladly.

We here today start afresh to work for and realize the ideal coming church. Every blessing to our own souls we would send out as blessing to others in life's sore struggle. Personal consecration crowned by zealous purpose to bless the world would make ours the church of the helping hand. Only by practical service can we hope to win.

Without this, the Master does not need us, and the world has no place for us. The logic of events issues the edict, "Do some good work, or better close the doors and disband."

Only as practically we serve this community can our church live or hope to win success.

(Adapted from a 1910 sermon by Rev. Russ R. Shippen)

Sunday, August 29, 2021

A Doer Who Works Is Blessed by Doing


"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing." (James 1:22, 25)

God created us not to contemplate but to act. He created us in His own image, and in Him there is no Thought without simultaneous Action.

True action is born of contemplation. True contemplation, as a means to an end, always begets action. In nothing is the power of sin more clearly seen than this, that even in the believer there is such a gap between intellect and conduct. It is possible to delight in hearing, to be diligent in increasing our knowledge of God’s word, to admire and approve the truth, even to be willing to do it, and yet to fail entirely in the actual performance. Hence the warning of James, not to delude ourselves with being hearers and not doers. Hence his pronouncing the doer who works blessed in his doing.

Blessed in doing. - The words are a summary of the teaching of our Lord Jesus at the close of the Sermon the Mount: ‘He who does the will of My Father shall enter the kingdom of heaven.’ 

‘Everyone who hears My words, and does them, shall be like a wise man.’ To the woman who spoke of the blessedness of her who was his mother: ‘Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.’ To the disciples in the last night: ‘If you know these things, happy are you if ye do them.’ It is one of the greatest dangers in religion that we rest content with the pleasure and approval which a beautiful representation of a truth calls forth, without the immediate performance of what it demands. It is only when conviction has been translated into conduct that we have proof that the truth is mastering us.

A doer that works shall be blessed in doing. - The doer is blessed. The doing is the victory that overcomes every obstacle it brings out and confirms the very image of God, the Great Worker; it removes every barrier to the enjoyment of all the blessing God has prepared. We are ever inclined to seek our blessedness in what God gives, in privilege and enjoyment. Christ placed it in what we do, because it is only in doing that we really prove and know and possess the life God has bestowed.

When one said, ‘Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God,’ our Lord answered with the parable of the supper, ‘Blessed is he that forsakes all to come to the supper.’ The doer is blessed. As surely as it is only in doing that the painter or musician, the man of science or commerce, the discoverer or the conqueror find their blessedness, so, and much more, is it only in keeping the commandments and in doing the will of God that the believer enters fully into the truth and blessedness of deliverance from sin and fellowship with God.

Doing is the very essence of blessedness, the highest manifestation, and therefore the fullest enjoyment of the life of God.

A doer who works shall be blessed in doing. - This was the blessedness of Abraham, of whom we read (James 2:22): "You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was make perfect by his works" He had no works without faith; there was faith working with them and in them all. And he had no faith without works: through them his faith was exercised and strengthened and perfected. As his faith, so his blessedness was perfected in doing. 

It is in doing that the doer who works is blessed. The true insight into this, as a Divine revelation of the true nature of good works, in perfect harmony with all our experience in the world, will make us take every command, and every truth, and every opportunity to abound in good works as an integral part of the blessedness of the salvation Christ has brought us. Joy and work, work and joy, will become synonymous: we shall no longer be hearers, but doers.

Let us put this truth into immediate practice. Let us live for others, to love and serve them. Let not the fact of our being unused to labors of love, or the sense of ignorance and unfitness, keep us back. 

Only begin. If you think you are not able to labor for souls, begin with the bodies. Only begin, and go on, and abound. Believe the word, It is more blessed to give than to receive. 

Pray for and depend on the promised grace. Give yourself to a ministry of love; in the very nature of things, in the example of Christ, in the promise of God you have the assurance: If you know these things, happy are you if you do them. Blessed is the doer!

Adapted from "Working for God!" by Rev. Andrew Murray, 1901 (chapter 27)

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Jesus' Gospel Frees Us To Do Good More Perfectly! #JesusFollowers


We are born with the Natural, God-given ability to do Good. But it is only when we encounter and follow Jesus, the man who perfectly demonstrates for us what is Good in the eyes of God, that we can know and fully understand the perfect Good we are called to do.

Jesus taught that when we follow him, we are free, indeed (John 8:38). This freedom is not a call to pursue lawlessness, and does not mean that we may be released from any future accountability to God, Who remains our Father and Creator, as well as our Judge (Ps. 96:10; Prov. 24:12; Matt. 7:2; 12:36; 16:27). Instead, the opposite is true. Learning at the feet of our Master, we quickly learn that we are called to an even greater obedience.

Jesus calls out to us to hear his teachings, to understand his life as one we should emulate, and seek out others who will follow his example, also.  This, and no other message, is properly called The Gospel.

In this Gospel, Jesus plainly teaches that if we claim to love him, we will do all that he taught us (John 14:21; 15:10) and that we will teach others to do the same. (Matt. 28:20)

When we come to know and understand the Gospel of Jesus, we are "free, indeed" - not freed from the duty to do Good, because this is the core of his teaching - but freed from an ignorance and imperfect knowledge of God's holiness, and freed to do Good more completely, the way God intends.

And what is this perfect Way Jesus beckons us to follow? It is to love God, our Creator, in gratitude with all of the strength our souls can muster, and to love our fellow human beings with every fiber of our own Being. (Matt. 22:37)

The Gospel of Jesus is a call to love more fully; a love that completes and perfects us, because when we take up his Gospel's challenge, we deny all selfishness to totally seek God's path of Righteousness. (Matt. 16:24-25)

This is what Jesus meant when he called for us to be perfect, saying for us to, "be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48.) 

This perfection does not refer to some form of physical beauty, or even flawlessly performing our daily tasks. This is shown clearly when he calls for us to forgive as God forgives, and love as God loves (Matt. 6:14-15)

The Gospel presented by Jesus, therefore, recognizes the God-given abilities of all human beings to do great Good. And the life Jesus led in perfect obedience to God (Matt. 12:36; John 8:29) gives us a template of how we, also may perfect ourselves by pursuing this perfect Way.

We begin the process of becoming morally perfect servants of God and our fellow Human beings by first recognizing and repenting of our past imperfection, and then dedicating ourselves to seeking to follow his teachings.

These teachings of Jesus alone guide us directly to the holiness God knows we are capable of demonstrating in our own lives, just as Jesus perfectly demonstrated them in his.

It is in this sense that we can fully understand the otherwise difficult teaching that it is only through Jesus that we may reach our heavenly Father. (John 14:6)

In our ignorance of what is perfectly Good, we cannot have knowledge of the path God sets out for us. Jesus, by revealing to us through his life and teachings and even in his death, shows us clearly the perfect path of active obedience and self-denial we are called to follow.

Jesus and the message he left for us continues to guide us towards the Light of God's Righteousness. We are, he taught, to become lights to the world, just as he was the light of the world (Matt. 5:14; John 8:12)

Obtaining the knowledge of this message, and acting upon it, shows us God's Righteous Light, and allows us to share it with others by our deeds. God's spirit is an ever-present help to us on this journey towards holiness.

Let us become more like Jesus daily as we deny ourselves, serve others, and seek to follow his path of Righteousness, becoming the Light in the world that Jesus calls us to become.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

12 Ways #Jesus Challenges Us to Be Better! #JesusFollowers

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 God and the Creator of the universe.

God chose Jesus, anointed 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 our repentance, we aren’t truly returning to God, but simply SAYING we are.

Jesus calls us to be better people; to become the human beings God knows we can become. Mere belief is not enough, that is only the start of our Faith. If we say we love Jesus, we will actively seek to 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, August 8, 2021

#Jesus Says: We Must Forgive Others [#JesusFollowers]

"Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." (Matt. 13:21-22) 

Our Master, Jesus, told the disciples the Parable of the Wicked (or "ungrateful") Servant to teach them, and us, how God forgives and how we must also forgive others. In the Book of Matthew, it follows the "seven times seventy" verse above, and both the verse and the parable are related to one another.

The Parable goes like this: A king had a servant, who owed him a vast sum of money. And because he couldn't pay, he begged the king to forgive the debt. And the king forgave the entire debt.

But as this servant went out of the king's court, he met a fellow servant, who owed him only a small amount; and he took him by the throat, choked him, and said, “Pay me all you owe me!" The fellow servant said, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you all of it.” But he wouldn't listen, and had him thrown into jail.
 
When the king got wind of how his servant had acted, having had the lesser servant thrown into prison after getting mercy for himself, he was angry.

Jesus finishes the parable in this way, "'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master [the king] delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."

The lesson of the parable (coming after the "seventy times seven" lesson as it does) is clear: that we are bound, every one of us, to forgive any wrong that our brothers and sisters do to us, if we expect God to forgive us.

In fact, if we expect to be forgiven by God, we must first freely offer forgiveness to others, and do so continually, as a condition of our forgiveness. Or so teaches Jesus. (Mark 11:25) Forgiveness is given to us by God freely when we ask for it, but we must in turn give forgiveness freely to others, not as a grudging act (or just when we feel like it) but willingly, and from our hearts.

As we saw, Peter asked how many times we must forgive others, and Jesus replied, “Seventy times seven” times. In other words, continually and without end. This must have shocked Peter, and it comes as a great shock today to those who believe they need “do” nothing in this life to achieve communion with God eternally in Heaven in the next. But they have been greatly misled.

And when the Scribes tried to tell Jesus that only God can forgive sins, Jesus corrected them, and by example, taught that all those who follow him should forgive others’ sins and trespasses. (Mark 2:7, John 20:23) 

In opposing the Scribes, Jesus said we must be as forgiving as God is. "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:36) There are some Scribes today who doubt we have the ability to do what Jesus calls us to do.

But forgiveness, more than almost any other doctrine, is at the core of the Gospel that Jesus preached. And if Jesus can, in his dying breath, forgive those who murdered him, we can certainly forgive those who offend us with their gossip and other petty offenses. Our God, revealed to us by the teachings of Jesus, is a God of high expectations, and believes that we are able to meet and exceed them.  We should believe Jesus and the God that he preaches, then act accordingly.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

#Jesus Wants Our INTENTIONAL Good Works, Not "Random Acts" #JesusFollowers

It's popular today to see admonitions for us to do "random acts of kindness." And in a world that is often unkind, that's certainly a step in the right direction. We know that kindness has a way of rippling out into the world, touching many people in a chain of goodness. And that, of course, should be applauded.

But as followers of Jesus, we have a higher calling than that. Not only should these acts be random, they should be INTENTIONALLY done, meaning, On Purpose, and all the time.

Jesus didn't say we ought to do good occasionally, or when we felt like it, but that we should do good as a way of spreading the Kingdom of God here on earth.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "When you do Good Works..." He did not say "if you choose to do Good Works," or "If God decides to give you the ability to do a Good Work," or any other variant. He, as our Master ("lord") simply commands us to follow his teachings, as if he ACTUALLY expects us to follow his lead! (Imagine that!)

In short, if we have made him our Master, we are called to a life of joyful obedience to him.

Jesus' parables are filled with urgings and promptings to do Good.

The Good Samaritan comes to mind immediately. Of all who walked by the man who had been beaten and left for dead along a road - including "religious" people of Jesus' day who assured themselves of their Elect Status with God - only one acted in a merciful way that pleased God and helped the man in distress. "Go and do likewise" says Jesus.

In the Parable of The Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) Jesus illustrates that we are to put our talents to good use here in the world, and not wait for some distant future where all things will be made right.

Jesus tells a parable of a Rich Fool  (Luke 12:13-21) illustrating that "life does not consist in an abundance of possessions," and warns against those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God, and others. Elsewhere (Matt. 12:35) Jesus says we ought to lay up goodness in our hearts, from where goodness can flow out into the world.

In his teachings, Jesus said we should "do Good" even to our enemies. (Luke 6:35) And Jesus told the Religious Elites of the day that, contrary to their practice, even on the Sabbath Day, it was appropriate to "do Good" (Matt. 12:12.) Of Jesus, it was said that "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth, "and "he went around doing Good ... because God was with him" (Acts 10:38)

Finally, Jesus in a parable of sheep and goats (Matt. 25:31-46) spells out specific ways in which we ought to be acting, and warns that God will judge us not according to our intentions (or our creeds, or our endless songs of praise or prayers) but by our acts.

"Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

As Micah the Prophet said, "He has shown you, O man, what is Good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?"

Doing Good is not an option. Jesus, our Master, commands it. If we say we love him, we'll obey his teachings, and do Good, continually. (John 14-15)

"I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you," says Jesus (John 1315.) Let's go out into the world and do Good!

Sunday, July 25, 2021

How Can We Know What Is Good? #JesusFollowers


On the first day of his class, a college professor announced they would be tested that very day. The subject of the test would be all the material they were going to learn.

Not only would the test cover material from the upcoming semester, said the professor, but these freshmen students would be tested on senior-level material - four years of information, none which they had been taught.

Now, clearly, such a test would be unfair, and the results of such a test would be predictable - most students would be unable to answer most of the question. Why should a student without knowledge of a subject be able to know it enough to pass such an advanced test?
One might also ask why babies are not able to read or write, or why no eight-year-olds are experts in constitutional law.

The answer to all of these, as well, is that they lack the knowledge and experience to do so.

And yet, people have no problem asking why there is so much evil and even simple badness in the world. The answer, of course, is the same as in the previous examples: People act badly in many cases because they are simply unaware of what is Good. (And yes, there are many who do know, and choose to do evil.)

The question of Good and Evil is often a religious one. And that is appropriate. God, our creator, has standards of behavior that, if we adhere to them, will make us far better and even more spiritually perfect beings.

If one follows Jesus, and believes that God chose this man to be the example of how all of us should be living, then knowledge of what he taught and preached is essential to knowing what is Good.

When we believe that this Chosen One of God is the very best example of the Good that God wishes us to pursue, we have been saved from the ignorance of what is Good. That is the first step towards the Goodness God wishes for us, bt it is not the final step.

Our spiritual journey is a lifelong one. Jesus calls us to follow him, not to merely recognize him as our morally perfect example, and certainly not to simply admire his perfection.

Knowledge of the teachings of Jesus is the first step in our journey toward spiritual perfection. Committing to following those teachings is what brings us closer to the goal he sets for us.

That we cannot instantly achieve spiritual maturity does not say anything about human nature. As in the examples above, it's unreasonable to demand that we will learn any skill or even any Behavior instantly.

That is not a flaw. It is built into our Nature. The brother of Jesus, James, wrote that when we are tested with trials, we become stronger. This is because we learn from them, and they teach us.

So too, with the lessons Jesus teaches us. As a follower of Jesus, we learn not only from trials, but from the perfect example of the one God chose for us.

Having such a perfect example always before us is an amazing and beautiful gift from our creator. That we have this example, and that Jesus himself said we may do as he did, means that our nature is perfectible, and that we may indeed do good in a way that pleases God.

These teachings, therefore, should be our guidepost, our template, our goal in life.

To love God with all that we have and all that we are, and to love our neighbor exactly as we love ourselves, is the epitome of what it means to be a human being. This we learn from the teachings of Jesus, the one whom God anointed to be our Master.

To seek after this spiritual completeness, this maturity, this perfection, is therefore our goal in life.

That we know what is Good and what is evil means that we have an obligation to seek the Good and avoid the evil and, by our actions alone, not by our condemnation, to demonstrate this and share it with the world.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

What Is Our True Nature? #JesusFollowers


A minister on the radio was heard saying that humans beings are all, morally, "condemned criminals" in need of "radical surgery." Holy mixed metaphors, Batman! Not only was that metaphor a language crime, it was theologically criminal, as well!

Fortunately for us, he is wrong. In fact, Jesus teaches just the opposite. Jesus, just like the Hebrew prophets before him, consistently taught that we are all free to choose either to do good or to do evil, and that we will be held responsible for those choices when we stand before God.

Let us quickly dispense with the idea that we are all condemned criminals. The only ministers who say this too readily discount the idea of our Heavenly Father' vast mercy, or are deliberately hiding this wonderful aspect of our Creator.

Of course, what this minister was really trying to imply is that we are all born under an imaginary curse, one that somehow makes us unable to do any good to please God, and that we are therefore born already condemned in the sight of God. 

This is scripturally false and logically nonsense.

That God made us free to choose and liable for our choices is one of the best attested facts of scripture - both the Hebrew scriptures and the words of our Master, Jesus, whom God chose to be our example and teacher in all things.

To claim that we are so damaged that we can do no good; that we cannot follow Jesus and do as he calls us to do, are man-made excuses for our failure to obey.

Not to mention, it makes Jesus into an unreasonable master, for commanding what cannot be done by us. That would mean that God knows we cannot do it, but had Jesus tell us to do these impossible tasks anyway. Then, he would condemn us to punishment for not doing them!

If God did this, and if we could not act Righteously, God would be the author of our sins, and an unjust judge. He would be responsible for our actions, and not us, if we were unable by our very nature to obey what He and his chosen son have laid out before us to do.

It would also mean that Jesus was a liar, and his teachings calling is to do Good would be a mockery, too.

Without our freedom of Will and freedom to act there can be no judgement of our actions by a moral God. But the good news is that we were created with the ability to choose.

This ability means that our choices have eternal meaning, and that the Good we do is not just a forced choice made by a domineering God, but instead, is a joyful and grateful response to God's love.

The Hebrew Bible is filled with examples of God giving us a free will and the freedom to choose. The story of Adam and Eve is all about our Free Will and ability to choose, and the Jewish people have always understood it that way.
Adam's poor choice didn't damage his children's, nor his descendants' ability to choose right from wrong. God is portrayed in Genesis as telling Adam's own son, Cain, that he had the freedom (and the duty) to do right or to do wrong, and to take the consequences of either choice. That, alone, ruins the concept of our alleged "moral inability" to do good, because of Adam's Sin.

King David is shown in scripture as sinning and doing evil deeds, but he repented, and God forgave him. He says in the Psalms that he stood after his repentance before God with clean hands and with righteous actions.

Isaiah teaches that we are to wash ourselves and make ourselves clean. If we are totally unable to do good, then what could this possibly mean?

Therefore, it is abundantly clear that the Hebrew scriptures teach nothing else except that we have the ability to act and to do good, and that we are commanded by God, our Creator, to do exactly that.

Jesus, also, teaches us that God wishes us to have willing hearts and to follow the path of righteousness through our actions.

We are, like King David, fully able to repent of our past mistakes, and to stop doing them, as in the story of the woman caught in adultery demonstrates. Jesus said, "Go, and sin no more." No radical surgery was required of her, simply a determination to repent to do good, instead. Radical action was required of her - and she was able to do it.

The kingdom of God is built through our deliberate righteous actions and good works done in accordance with the teachings of our Master, Jesus.

So, we see that the minister's foolish statement about "radical surgery" is another theological falsehood. While our wills may have been damaged by our past actions, that can no way mean that we have no ability to turn our lives around by reaching out to God and repenting. Jesus teaches that all may repent, and indeed must repent, of past mistakes, which are a falling short of the high standards God wishes for all of us.

And again, all the Hebrew Prophets and Jesus taught that sincere repentance is all that is required of us to begin turning our lives around toward godliness.

The Gospel that Jesus preached is a challenge to reach our full potential - how God wishes us to live our lives. The fact that many do not know that the Gospel is a challenge, and are unaware that Jesus' Gospel is fully contained in his words, doesn't make them criminals sentenced to death eternally. 

Instead, it makes them imperfect, because they are, our of ignorance, not following God's perfect path of righteousness. This ignorance is because wicked ministers have not taught them this Truth.

Those who are living imperfect lives don't need radical surgery as much as they need a radical reassessment of their lives. And they should be informed at that there is a better way: to live their lives in accordance with God's will. 

And those who are living an easy faith without challenge, who believe that good works are impossible (or something that we need not even concern ourselves with) fall grossly short of Jesus' teachings, often warping them beyond all recognition, or worse, ignoring or minimizing them.
These ministers, and their flocks, perhaps need a radical new faith, based on the challenging, joyful teachings of our Master, Jesus, who says emphatically that we are capable of doing all that he asks us to do and that we may do all that he has done. THAT is the True Gospel message. It is one worth sharing.

Knowing that Jesus pleased God in every way, and said that we may do the same, shows that God and the one He chose as our example have far higher confidence in us human beings then many ministers do.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

He Has Shown Us #JesusFollowers

 

“He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

"He has shown you, O man." Whoever among you makes this inquiry, if you think and consider, may perceive that God has already taught you those services that He requires, and what things are the most acceptable to Him.

He teaches us by our own reason, if we will use it. He has also shown us this in his word, in the Law, and in all the revelations He has made to us.

So, in the Law of Moses (Deut. 10:12-13) it is written, “Now, Israel, what does Yahweh your God require of you, but to fear Yahweh your God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep Yahweh’s commandments and statutes, which I command you today for your good?”

And many of the Prophets speak in perfect agreement what is here said in Micah. In Isaiah: “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...” (Isaiah 1:16) And in Hosea: "For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:6.)

Therefore what is said had been said before, and often taught, and shown to this people by reason, and by other Prophets and messengers.

"He has shown you what is good," or right, what is in itself reasonable and excellent.

"What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly?" This covers everything that is fair and equal between people, according to the relations they keep, or the obligations they are under to each other.

In our common traffic with others, we are to observe truth in our words, so on all other occasions we are to regard the truth of things, not saying anything falsely to the disparagement of our neighbor, which would be shown an injustice, a most injurious action.

It follows next, "And to love mercy" or goodness. When the duty owed to our neighbor is described as "loving," them both justice and mercy are included in that one word. Here they are mentioned separately, and distinctly. And also elsewhere. "Therefore turn to your God. Keep mercy [kindness] and justice, and wait continually for your God." (Micah 12:6)

Showing mercy is doing no more to others than what we, in the same circumstances, would have others do to us. And not just relieving our own relatives, or friends, but also strangers, when we can.

The last thing in this text said to be required of us is, "to walk humbly with God," or as the Hebrew is, literally, "and to humble yourself to walk with your God." The meaning in general is, "and to resolve to obey all God's commandments, and to continue and persevere in them always, to the end of life."

It is to resolve to worship the true God, and Him alone. In the text it is "Yahweh, your God,” meaning the God who has made us.

We perceive that the holy obedience required of us is of great extent - consisting of justice, mercy and piety.

It can therefore be no very easy thing to be truly religious. It must be a difficult and a high attainment. We have need, as Jesus directs us, to strive, to exert ourselves, and to do our utmost to enter in at the narrow gate. (Matt. 7:13-14)

Let us seriously attend to this representation of true religion, and remember that the things insisted on are absolutely necessary.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Nathaniel Lardner)

Sunday, July 4, 2021

To Be Truly Transformed by #Jesus #JesusFollowers

The message that Jesus taught during his ministry is an active and revolutionary call to action for the human race.

It's not a mystical or mysterious process of transformation that he calls us to, but a practical and real one.

Jesus calls us to do good, to become more holy people, to act in righteousness, and to serve others first.

Jesus calls us to achieve, to do, to act, to work, to become better people, to seek out the truth, to be humble, to worship and praise our God, and to love others.

Doing good on behalf of others stands at the very core of the Gospel Jesus preached.

Jesus is our model and example. God chose and sent Jesus out into the world to show us by word and deed how we should live Godly lives: To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, comfort those in distress - these things are to be our mission in life, according to Jesus.

To be transformed by Jesus to be called to action by him, and to heed that call. His example, his message, his Gospel, is what transforms our lives and the lives of those around us. We rely on the example of Jesus and the ongoing inspiration and assistance of God's Spirit to transform us and make our lives spiritually complete.

We are transformed by Jesus only when we go from inactive self-assurance to active service of others.

We are transformed by Jesus when we actively love God and demonstrate that love by actively serving and loving our neighbors just as we love ourselves, as God's anointed one taught us to do.

If we call ourselves by his name, we ought to walk as he himself walked, becoming in our daily lives the very model of his righteousness in all that we do. Let us allow our acts shine like a light in a world desperate for our example.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

We are Broken, But Not “Born That Way” #JesusFollowers

Many of those around us, and also ourselves, are frequently hurting, struggling, confused, and yes, broken, by our circumstances and experiences.

And when we seek out our religious leaders for answers, many tell us that we are defective by Nature, “totally depraved” or “broken” from birth, morally unable to do Good.

Some claim we are slaves to a base, “fallen” Nature since birth that we can’t control or that only the magic remedy of a “simple salvation prayer” can fix.

BUT DON’T YOU BELIEVE IT. The Bible and the teachings of our Master, Jesus, actually tells a vastly different story than the crafty theology of later men.

The Bible tells us that King David, broken himself from living recklessly and Godlessly, turned back to God, repented of his sins, and lived blamelessly, with “clean hands” before God.

David, after repentance, says, “I have been blameless before Him and have kept myself from sin.” (Psalms 18:24) So may we.

The Bible shows an entire city, Nineveh, turning to Yahweh, the One God of Israel, and repenting of their sins, and receiving forgiveness from that One God. If pagan Nineveh can turn and do Good, we can, too!

And what about Adam? Did his sin in the Garden “curse” us with the inability to choose to do Good? No. We find no curse or excuse to avoid doing Good here.

Adam’s own son, Cain, was told by God that he would be rewarded if he did what was right, and COULD and MUST do Good.

“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door; it desires you, BUT YOU MUST RULE OVER IT.” (Gen. 4:7)

Jesus tells a parable of a young man who, after squandering his family’s wealth after demanding his inheritance early, returns to his father in a spirit of repentance and receives it.

The Bible shows us that the condition of sinful disobedience is just that – a failure to obey God’s Moral Laws for living. And that the only remedy for that failure is to repent, and seek to DO Righteousness.

“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean. Remove the evil of your deeds from My eyes. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good,” urges Isaiah (1:16-17)

“Do what is right and Good in the sight of Yahweh,” (Deut. 6:18)

“Trust in Yahweh and do Good.” (Psalms 37:3)

“Turn from evil and do Good. Seek peace and pursue it. (Psalms 34:19)

The Book of Job instructs, “The righteous will hold to their ways, and those with clean hands will grow stronger.” (Job 17:9)

We may be broken right now, but we weren’t “born that way,” and we cannot remain that way.

The experiences of Jesus teach us that human beings do, indeed have the ability (and the responsibility) to recognize when we are on the wrong path, and repent of it.

We can seek, as Jesus proved by his life, to grow in wisdom and in spiritual strength, enduring whatever life throws at us by relying on God’s plan for our lives (which is nothing more than following His path of Righteousness.)

Suffering ups and downs in life is completely natural, says the Bible, and so is overcoming it.

Further, Jesus’ own life teaches us that we as human beings can thrive even when persecuted, and most of us don’t have to go through the verbal and physical abuse HE endured, certainly.

In fact, Jesus taught a Gospel of ACTIVELY DOING RIGHTEOUSNESS. That, and only that, was his message, which he described as the way we are to bring in God’s Heavenly Kingdom right here on the earth, right now.

And unlike all other previous prophets, and all religious leaders since, Jesus set himself up as a MODEL for imitation. “Follow me,” doesn’t mean just walk behind Jesus, but to actively pursue Righteousness through Good actions.

He tells us to “deny your Self” and actively, and daily, “take up your cross” (Mark 8:34; Matt 16:24) by serving others. We are to clothe the naked, give food and drink to the hungry and thirsty, and visit the sick and those in prison. (Matt. 25)

If this Gospel message of his sound like a challenge, it is. It’s the challenge Jesus gave all who follow him, and if you failed to detect our “fallenness” in his words, or an excuse of “moral inability” to do Good that would allow us to avoid taking up this challenge, you didn’t miss it. Because t’s not there. He never said it. And neither do the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures he quoted and studied as a youth.

It’s not in his words because it’s not in our Nature. Our Nature is meant to be perfected through Righteous action, just as God and His scripture, through His prophets, and as His Son, Jesus, spelled out clearly for us to imitate.

And if you somehow missed that message in your church last Sunday, you need to ask WHY you didn’t hear it.

Because the world needs that message of healing and help. And it needs it RIGHT NOW.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Perfection Actually SHOULD Be Our Goal #JesusFollowers

 "You shall be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48)

However unlikely or impossible it is that we shall ever meet a perfect human being on this earth, if we were to actually meet one, we would see, that instead of being a monster, that person would be of all people, the most entirely natural, the most truly human.
It is no objection to this, that when we see one yielding to a burst of inordinate passion, or carried away by excessive love of fame, or money, or pleasure, we are likely to say, “See, there's human nature. Poor, pathetic human nature!”
And perhaps in the most common sense; for the propensities in question are human propensities, and in its existing and disproportionate state of development it is natural that a person should give way to it.
But it's a poor development of our human nature which makes the stingy person stingy or the hedonist a seeker of pleasure, but not a natural development of our nature; and this is a distinction which a discriminating thinker will be careful to observe. For there is a natural development of our nature, and an unnatural development of our nature.
The stingy person and the hedonist become what they are because of an unnatural, one-sided, distorted development of human nature.
If human nature was developed naturally, that is to say, according to its just and intended order and proportions, there would be no stingy people or hedonists - they are the monsters, by their own acts.
But if a perfect person would be so natural in all their ways, if human perfection would be nothing but a full and perfect development of human nature in its just and natural order and proportions, how happens it, some may ask, that we never meet with some of these paragons,. Every person's character will be, and must be, and is, mixed.
John Wesley defined human perfection as being “such a degree of the love of God and the love of man, such a degree of the love of justice, truth, holiness, and purity, as will remove from the heart every contrary disposition towards God or man; and that should be our state of mind in every situation, in every circumstance of life.”
There is nothing to hinder us from maintaining, as the Scriptures do, the doctrine of human perfectibility. Perfectibility, as here used, differs from perfection in this, - that a person may be pronounced perfectible though he never attains to perfection in fact, provided only that there is nothing in his nature itself to exclude the possibility of perfection, and nothing in a person's circumstances to exclude the possibility of continually going on towards perfection.
There are no arbitrary or determinate bounds set to any person's progress in this life, whatever may be their condition and circumstances.
Even while struggling with the difficulty in question, and before we have succeeded in mastering it, if we struggle in a true spirit, we are continually growing wiser and better and stronger in ourselves through the new demand thus made on our energies, and the new exercise to which our faculties are being put. No limit is fixed or can be fixed to any person’s progress.
There is nothing too high for us to aim at, and nothing too good or too great to become the object of our aspirations.

This is all which I understand the Scriptures to mean, where they enjoin it upon us to be perfect, to go on unto perfection, and to become perfect human beings in Jesus.

So far, then, and only so far, can the Christian doctrine of human perfectibility be fairly urged. We are not only made capable of progress, but, with the aids which the Gospel supplies, of unlimited progress.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. James Walker)