Sunday, December 26, 2021
His example becomes the point after which we are to aspire; for his righteousness must be the criterion of judgment; and because he arrived at perfect obedience, doing in all things that for which he was sent by his Father, Jesus has shown by his example that all are able to obey God.
Jesus was a perfect example to us, to show to us that for the testimony of God our creator, we must be willing, as Jesus was, to surrender up everything unto God; and to do his will in everything, even if it cost us our natural lives. For if we are brought into the situation that he was in, that we cannot save our natural lives without giving up the testimony that God has called us to bear, we have his example not to do it, though we may feel as he did, that it is a great trial.
We have it now on record. We need only take up the precepts of Jesus, only look at his example, and his direction to his disciples, and see if we can find anything, any testimony worthy to be compared with it.
What is true religion? It consists entirely in righteousness, that righteousness which is acceptable in the sight of God. It unites us with God, as it did his blessed Son, and brings us to partake of his holy nature, and we become one with him – as the disciples formerly were declared to be partakers of the divine nature.
Until we do everything in our power, by every means put in our hands, we shall not find support from God! There are no sins so great, in this probationary, earthly state, our Father would not stand ready to forgive, if we turn to Him with full purpose of heart and acknowledge our transgressions.
He gives us the grace of repentance, and enables us so to walk as to be reconciled to Him, and gain a greater establishment in Himself, and in the truth, than when we first came out of His creating hands.
(Adapted from an 1826 sermon by Elias Hicks)
Sunday, December 19, 2021
Later this week, on Christmas Day, we will "welcome" Jesus into the world along with Christendom. This is a Jesus we already know, a man fully grown and with whom we are more than acquainted.
This isn't a baby we must perpetually welcome into our homes. We are confronted instead with the adult Jesus.
Meeting the adult Jesus is difficult for many, and even frightens them to meet him as an adult and not a helpless, unassuming child.
The adult Jesus scared the religious elites of his day because of what he asked, just as he scares the religious elites of today.
Jesus is an adult whom we must each decide whether to ignore, or to serve, as God intended us to do.
If we claim his name, and wish to be identified with it, we must not assume that admiring a baby in a manger is what God wishes. We must not delude ourselves that admiration - or even worship - is alone sufficient. We cannot ignore the adult Jesus, or prefer the baby instead of the adult.
The adult Jesus is hidden away by the religious elites. He scares them.
A fully human Jesus, fully grown, with a clearly understood, fully formed mission and a challenging religion of Good Works, scares them EVEN MORE!
So this adult Jesus isn't celebrated at Christmas. At all. And he rarely, if ever, makes an appearance the rest of the year, either.
So, just who is this Jesus?
Jesus, the adult, was of course born a baby, but he was born fully a human, of human parents, just as we were born. (He was recognized as such in the Gospels by his neighbors, by the Disciples, and by his parents.)
He grew in the knowledge of God and gained wisdom; he pleased God in all he did. When he became an adult, he was chosen at his baptism and anointed by God to be our Master, our Teacher, our Template and the Example of how a human being should live for the glory of God and most beneficially for our fellow human beings.
This Jesus is not the one created for us by Priests whom we must simply admire and worship from afar; unable to obey, unable to follow because he is so different, so distant, so alien.
We may instead celebrate the Jesus - a man called and chosen by God - whom we can fully love as our elder brother, and the one whom we can actively follow as our example in all things. We may become more like God because one of us has done it already, setting the example towards which we may strive.
Let us remember the birth, but also the adult life, of THIS Jesus, a Jesus worth celebrating on Christmas Day, and every day.
Sunday, December 12, 2021
The Bible tells us that human beings were fearfully and wonderfully made, and created in the very image of God, the creator of all the universe. (Psalms 139:14, Genesis 1:27)
It includes no call for us to have a low opinion of God's creation, and the fact that God created us all in His image means that the teaching of Jesus that we are to love our neighbors exactly as we love ourselves is a pure reflection of this truth. (Mark 12:31)
Further, Jesus teaches us to have incredibly high ideals for ourselves and to seek them in our daily lives every day.
We are to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. We are to be merciful just as God is merciful. We are to love God with every fiber of our being. And yes, we are called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. (Matt. 5:48, Luke 6:36, Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:31)
There is nowhere in the teachings of Jesus to support the idea the God believes we cannot do all that He asks of us, or that these ideals are placed before us in order to tease us with our imperfection and inability to achieve them.
Indeed, there is nothing in Jesus' teachings and nothing in the writings of the Hebrew Prophets for which we can justify or excuse mediocre behavior towards God, who nonetheless is merciful towards us when we fall short of those ideals and ask humbly for His forgiveness.
The Hebrew Prophet Micah says, "Who is a God like You, Who pardons iniquity and passes over the transgressions of his remnant of His inheritance?" (Micah 34:7)
So, everything Jesus said points to the fact that we are wonderfully made creatures in the image of God, innocent children who are capable of acting in a Godly manner.
And of course this is utterly consistent with the Hebrew Bible's teachings - teachings with which Jesus was completely familiar and believed were Scripture inspired by God.
Once we recognize this, new vistas open up on the pages of Scripture and in the teachings of Jesus because they become the art of the possible, and a reasonable and joyous challenge for us.
The teachings of Jesus thus become for us a template for living, an actual guide for Life as God wishes us to live it.
The Hebrew Bible, especially the Wisdom books in the moral teachings of the Prophets, is filled with verses calling human beings to achieve great things and live active lives of holiness and service to others.
"Be holy, for I am holy," declares God in Leviticus (11:44). "To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to Yahweh than sacrifice." (Proverbs 21:3). "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked." (Psalms 1:1). "Depart from evil and do good." (Psalms 34:14).
In these Scriptures, we are viewed as noble and able beings, capable of achieving what God has called us to do.
"A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things," says Jesus. (Matt. 12:35)
But yes, this same Bible is filled with people, and entire nations, who failed to live up to those standards.
Let us not be fooled by these Scriptures' ample examples of those who fell short of the ideals set by God.
The very fact that those were made examples for us means that they are there on the pages to inspire us to avoid such mistakes and to do better than they did.
For example, King David was guilty of great sins and misdeeds. He repented of these (Psalms 7) and went on to serve God in holiness, saying, "Yahweh has rewarded me according to my righteousness. According to the cleanness of my hands he has recompensed me." (Psalms 18:20)
We, too, are called to Holiness and to piety by King David's example and by that of Jesus, who pleased God and did all the things that He asked him to do (John 8:29) and was chosen as his spokesman and Son at his baptism (Luke 3:22). He calls us to follow him, and to do all the he did. (Matt. 4:19, John 13:15, 14:12) And unless those are empty words, our Master meant for us to do just that.
We know that with the help of our Father in heaven, we may humbly seek to walk in the steps of His Son, Jesus, taking up our cross daily to follow him. By this, we become the beings that God created us to be, and we build God's kingdom on Earth with our acts of kindness and service.
Sunday, December 5, 2021
Is Modern Christmas really that far from the teachings of Jesus? In many ways, it certainly is.It focuses on “getting” far more than giving, on money and acquiring expensive things rather than on God and accruing spiritual riches, and it can often put the focus on pride, and ourselves, rather than on giving to others.
In all these things, the Christmas that we keep today is indeed far from Jesus, and from the God Who chose him to be our example and guide in all things.
Then again, our Modern Church often also reflects these failings, being too inwardly focused, centered on obtaining money and materialism, and obsessed with “rock star” preachers with huge egos.
But do those who get so upset this time of year about how “secular” Christmas has become in our lives have a point? Or are they missing some of the wonderful redeeming values of the Season, even as most non-Christians celebrate it? Let’s take a look.
1. Modern Christmas has become a time for giving, with an emphasis on those in need.
Jesus in fact said we are to give to those in need.
Jesus does not say IF we give to the needy, he gives us instructions on how to act WHEN we give to the needy (Matt. 6:2-3.) While we are not to “trumpet” our good deeds JUST to be seen by others in a prideful way, we are clearly and specifically told to give to the poor (Matt. 10:21) and “give to the one who begs from you” (Matt. 5:42.)
2. Modern Christmas features people coming around the table for big meals – including friends, co-worker, long-lost relatives and even the “black sheep” of the family.
Jesus invited people to dinner; some who weren't on the guest list of the wealthy and powerful.
“When you give a feast,” he says, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:13.) He ate with outcasts, including hated tax-collectors and with sinners (Matt. 9:10-13.) He expanded his definition of “family” to all who did the will of God (Matt 12:50.) All of this outraged the religious elites of the day.
3. Modern Christmas has become a particular time for expressing love to people, and for reconciliation, even among enemies.
Jesus called people to love one another. Even our enemies. At all times.
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44.) We are called by Jesus to love our God with all our hearts, mind, strength and soul, and to extend this same love to our neighbors (Luke 10:27.) Before gift-giving, Jesus said we must reconcile with our siblings (Matt 5:23-24.)
4. Modern Christmas has become a time when people are focused on doing good to others.
Jesus calls us to do Good Works and serve others righteously and in humility.
Jesus says, “Do unto others that which you would have done unto you” (Matt 7:12.) Jesus wishes us to, "observe all that I have commanded you." (Matt. 28:20) and says we will do even greater works than he did (John 14:12) Jesus clearly says we must “Do Good” (Luke 6:35) and serve others.
“I was hungry and you gave me food,” says Jesus. “I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” (Matt 25:35.) In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we are called to, “Go, and do the same.” (Luke 10:37)
5. Modern Christmas has become a time when we celebrate light in winter.
Jesus calls us to always let our Good Works be a beacon of light, representing God’s Kingdom made “real” in the world.
We are to let our “Light shine, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” But we cannot keep our goodness hidden, but like a lamp on a table or a city on a hill, we must show God’s love to the world through our actions. (Matt. 5:14-16.)
Jesus tells us how to show this service to God – so that God’s Kingdom would come (Matt. 6:10) – and also how to serve others: to clothe the naked, care for the sick, house the homeless, feed the hungry (Matt. 25:35-41.)
Of course, the clear difference between the “secular” Christmas and the Message Jesus proclaims to us is that Jesus’ message is what we who follow him are called to follow year-round, not just during one season.
None other than that secular Christmas celebrant, Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, said the same. “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
That, too, is what Jesus asks of us. And as Tiny Tim might say, “May God bless us, everyone,” at this precious time of the year, and always.
Sunday, November 28, 2021
Jesus lived long before the advent of social media, or even computers, but is there anything we can learn from him regarding how to deal with these wonders of our own era?
If Jesus is our teacher, guide, and Master, we can find many useful lessons for our lives today in his teaching and example.
Social media can be, and is, a great benefit. We stay connected with family members, friends and co-workers, often years after they're no longer living near to us; we keep up with current events in our communities, our nation, and around the world, and we meet and interact with people from around the world whom we would never have met without social media.
But social media also has a well-known destructive side.
We can become addicted to staring at laptop and smartphone screens. We can become disconnected with the people who are ACTUALLY around us. And we can misuse this great gift in many new and harmful ways.
It's often easy to say hurtful things, safely hidden behind a screen, that we'd never say in person.
And perhaps one of the most damaging aspects of social media use is that it can portray others' lives as perfect, which leads us to feel bad about how our own lives measure up.
Jesus spoke of the hypocrites of his day among the Pharisees, saying: "You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean." (Matt. 23:27)
Jesus therefore calls us to not bear false witness, or put on a false facade to others while on social media.
And what of the content we consume on social? It's been said of computer programming, "Garbage in, Garbage out." Many years before this saying, Jesus spoke of what we put into our hearts.
"The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." (Luke 6:45)
We are called by our Master to absorb good treasures, treasure that lasts an eternity, and ones that bear good fruit in the here and now.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matt. 6:19-21)
Our God-anointed Exemplar goes on to explain that what we SEE can put goodness or evil into our hearts:
"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your vision is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your vision is poor, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt. 6:22-23)
Jesus also calls us to serve and love our neighbors. This requires that we remain connected to the living, breathing people around us - friends, co-workers, family, neighbors, and even strangers that we encounter.
We can remain connected and reach out to them through social media, surely, but we ought not substitute a Direct Message or text for a comforting word and a helping hand.
Jesus calls us to perform righteous acts, in humility (Matt 6:1) feeding, clothing, comforting, visiting and actively engaging others - in person. (Matt. 25:35-36)
Jesus assures us that his teachings will last forever, and said if we truly love him, we will follow him, and do what he commands us to do.
Let's take his eternal teachings 20 centuries ago to heart when we use the wonderful gifts of our 21st century lives for the creation of the Kingdom Jesus says lives within us, and must come to pass on this earth through our acts in his name!
Sunday, November 21, 2021
The love and obedience of Christ Jesus is a very just foundation of God’s divine grace, and the most proper way to communicate it, and our redemption by Christ Jesus will stand in a just, clear, and beautiful light, if we consider that truth, virtue, righteousness, being useful, and doing good, (of which is the same thing as obedience to God) is the chief perfection of our intellectual nature.
Intelligent beings are above all others the most excellent; and the right use of the power of our intelligence is the highest glory and excellence of intelligent beings.
So, righteousness, goodness, and obedience, must be of the highest esteem and value with the Father of the universe; the only acceptable price for purchasing His favors or blessings.
And it must be the most sublime and perfect display of His wisdom and goodness to devise methods, and erect plans for promoting righteousness, virtue, goodness, and obedience, because this is the most effective way of promoting the truest excellency, honor, and happiness among His rational creatures. For which reason, He cannot in any other way exercise his perfections among the works of his hands more nobly and worthily."
We ought to imitate even those Acts whereby Christ Jesus has redeemed us.
Righteousness, Goodness and Obedience are the Price of Happiness, and procuring Blessings to ourselves and others, and is a very just and noble Plan. This may not only be seen in the Examples I have just now mentioned; but also takes place throughout the whole rational Universe.
Christ Jesus, indeed, is a Person of the highest Eminence; and the Effects of his Righteousness are proportionate to his personal worth and Excellence; and these effects are amazingly extensive.
It is consistent with Reason that a diligent, humble, and kind Subservience to the well-being of others should be honored with Favors from the Fountain of all Good.
It is perfectly fitting, that illustrious Virtue and Righteousness should be crowned with an extensive Influence; and that the good Effects of it should reach to many, and be the occasion and means of their Happiness. And in our World here we find that it is by Virtue, Self-denial, Integrity, Love and Kindness, studying and laboring to do Good, that any of us are useful, and are a Blessing to ourselves and others.
We bless the Good and Benevolent; and by so doing, judge that it is fitting and right that God should bless them, and make them Blessings to others. (Gen.12:2).
Nor is this Comparison lessening of the Dignity of our Lord, or any Disparagement of his glorious Work. For it is no Disparagement to the High priest of our Profession, that we also are a royal Priesthood; that we are Priests to God.
It is no ways derogatory even to the most perfect Excellence of the Divine Nature, that Wisdom, Goodness, Justice and Holiness are in Men the same in Kind, though not in Degree, as they are in God.
It is no Disparagement to the Dignity of our blessed Master, or to the glorious Work of Redemption, that among Men are found Actions similar to his, both in Nature and Effect.
But that which puts the matter out of Dispute, is our being required, not only to imitate our Master in other Instances of his Love and Obedience, but in those very Acts whereby he has ransomed, or redeemed us.
"Whomever will be great among you, my Disciples, let him be your servant” (Matt 20:26-28) Let him deserve His Honor by Usefulness, by assisting and doing Good to all.
"Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his Life a Ransom for many."
Our Master came to serve and assist, to be useful, and do Good to all, with all Humility, Meekness and Gentleness; and even humbled himself, and condescended so far, for promoting the Happiness of Mankind, as to lay down his Life to redeem them from Sin and Misery.
And a person is most honorable and eminent in Christ's Kingdom, who comes nearest to his Example.
“Love one, another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his Friends.“ (John 15:12-13)
It is, therefore, so far from diminishing the Dignity of our Master, or the glory of his work, to produce similar Instances among us; that it is made our Duty to copy after his example, even in his Dying for us.
There is no comparison between the value and importance of Christ Jesus’ work, and any we can perform, yet ours, while of a much lower Degree, may produce similar Effects; and will not fail to be attended with a proportionate measure of the Divine Blessing.
But God alone can set the Value of any Virtue or Righteousness; and He alone must appoint and bestow the Benefits proper to honor it with.
Nor has he given any Man either Capacity or Authority to rate, or estimate the Goodness of other Beings, whether Men or Angels, and then to assign the Benefits proper to be bestowed on others on Account of it.
For thus we are taught the absolute Necessity and infinite Importance of Obedience, and engaged to it, in the most effectual Manner; being redeemed by Goodness and Love, we have the most perfect Example of Goodness and Love, and the most powerful Inducenent to exercise them towards others. And by Obedience, Goodness, and Judge of Love, we are most properly prepared for the Usefulness, Honors, and Happiness of the heavenly State.
Adapted from the works of Rev. John Taylor, 1769
Sunday, November 14, 2021
Jesus went out into the world to do something, not for himself, but for his Father, and he devoted himself to it entirely.
He was continually engaged in it himself, while he remained here, going from place to place, encountering hardship and danger and suffering, and all without any reference to his own selfish interests, but regarding solely the work he had to do for the salvation of men.
And at last, when he left the world, his final charge to his disciples was, that they should be faithful and persevering in carrying forward this work.
It is surprising how much the example of Jesus loses its power over us, simply on account of the absolute perfection of it. If he had been partly a lover of pleasure, if he had, for instance, built himself a splendid mansion, and ornamented his grounds, and devoted some portion of his time to selfish enjoyment there.
Or if he had entered into political life, and devoted a share of his attention to promoting his own honor, and yet if he had torn himself away from these temptations, so as finally to have devoted his chief time and attention to the glory of God and the good of men, than perhaps then we would view his example as within our reach.
But as it is, since he gave himself up wholly to his duty, since he relinquished the world altogether, Christians seem to think, that his bright example is only, to a very limited extent, an example for them.
Jesus was a man. His powers were human powers. His feelings were human feelings, and his example is strictly and exactly an example for all the world. Still few consider him a fair example.
Most Christians think that the general principles which regulated his conduct, ought to regulate theirs, and the most they think of doing is to follow in his steps slowly and hesitatingly, and at a great distance behind.
How perfectly clear it is, that a very large proportion of professing Christians are doing their own business in this world, and not their Father's. There are a great number of nominal Christians who have no idea of the position Christianity takes in regard to our duty.
Our business here is to comfort everyone, and to relieve everyone's suffering. We cannot persuade great multitudes of men to love and obey God, as Jesus endeavored to, but we may lead our brothers and sisters to do it, by our silent influence and happy example.
We can bear sufferings patiently, and take injuries meekly, and thus exhibit the character which God wishes to have prevail here.
The light we let shine may be a feeble light, and it may illuminate only a narrow circle around you; but if it is the light of genuine piety, it will be in fact, the glory of God.
The example of Jesus is an example for all humanity. It is intended for universal imitation, and they who pass through life without imitating it, must find themselves condemned when they come to their account.
And how strange it is, that God should find so very few willing to do His business in this world. Even of those few, most, instead of entering into it, heart and soul, do some good accidentally, and call themselves Christians, but they seem to have no idea that God has any work for them to do.
Does God have work for us to do? Yes! There is a world to be restored to holiness and happiness, and He asks our help in doing it.
Sunday, November 7, 2021
We are living in the midst of things;
not at rest, but passing onward;
not at home, but travelers;
not stationary inhabitants, but pilgrims and strangers.
We are like actors, going from stage to stage, leaving on the road one scene of business and pleasure after another, and arriving at the new. What was ours is ours no longer. What is ours will be soon gone from us.Behind us are our childhood, our youth, and our early homes, our first warm loves, our first bright hopes, our early innocence and our early sins; before us are the cares and trials of an unknown destiny, and the duties of an uncertain probation - bereavement, toil, sickness, age, death, judgment.
Improvement is the universal law of God; to which everything in nature, are all conformed.
The herb, the tree, the animal, spring from an insignificant beginning, and reach their perfect stature by a gradual progress. The day does not open on the eye in meridian splendor. The year does not burst into ripe maturity at once. The nation does not arrive at power and fame in a day.
Improvement, then, is a law of the universe. All things alike, great and small, are made to be in progress. Individual human beings are not an exception. We must not allow everything else to move on, and we, ourselves remain stationary.
When the insensible earth and the irrational animals obey the commandment, 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, let not us think 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 spoke to the sea, “Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther,” has spoken to all things terrestrial except humanity.
Other things may stop, and become stationary; for they come to an end. But not humanity, 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 they shall return to its bosom.
This great progress of the human soul is but 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 below; and he who has made the greatest advances in these during his mortal life, is doubtless best fitted for entering on a future state.
(Adapted from a sermon by Dr. Henry Ware, Jr.)
Sunday, October 31, 2021
He found something in human nature, even in its humblest or its most distorted developments, worthy of love.
Look at his interactions with his immediate followers, how perseveringly stubborn was their hold on long cherished prejudices! How slow were they to enter into his spirit, and to yield themselves to the full power of his instructions!
We look to the Reformers, who have appeared in different periods of the Christian Church. We see in many of them high powers, determined hearts, and persevering efforts, qualities, which claim for them great respect. We see none, however, unbiased by local interests and prejudices.
Jesus stands at an immeasurable distance from them all. We see none who are motivated by a generous, unmingled love, like that which Jesus demonstrated.
By the friends of this "Christianity," many doctrines have been invented and practiced to give power and interest to its instructions. The terrors of the Lord have been proclaimed, in the language of power acting for destruction. The passion of fear has been used without restraint, and all the other passions associated with it have been put to use.
The power of party has been tried, and so has that of pomp, of show and of boasting, of forms and ceremonies, of fasts and prayers. But has the power of love been uniformly, and extensively tried?
Has the true spirit of Jesus ever yet been fully exhibited, either by his ministers or his church? I fear that it has not; and that even some good men are most woefully deceived as to the tendency of their own influence.
Here I see, what the spirit of Christ Jesus is, what the fruits of his influence are; and I utter in sorrow the deep conviction of my soul that the spirit of pure love, as it appeared in the teachings of Jesus, is not found extensively abroad for the reformation of the world.
Without this spirit, zeal may work with all the power of passion, sect after sect may put forth its rival claims, and missionaries may travel the globe; but the world will continue to writhe under the tortures of sin, and souls will continue to perish.
(Adapted from a Christmas Sermon by Rev. Nathan Parker, 1831)
Sunday, October 24, 2021
The Gospel of Jesus was certainly a plain doctrine at first, and in general readily and easily understood by those who heard it.
No one can doubt this who reads the accounts of how and to whom it was preached by Jesus. Indeed, it's hard to believe that in a revelation of His will, intended for all humanity, the Almighty Being would fail to find a spokesman to speak more clearly on His behalf, so that He would be understood by all.
Not that everything is obvious and upon the surface, to offer itself to us without any thought or labor. It is not the way of the Almighty to easily bestow anything that is good or excellent upon his creatures.
Nor can we understand the Scriptures without taking the necessary effort to understand the phrases and customs of the times in which our Master preached.
But by this exertion of ourselves, along with a sincere desire to become pious, wise, and good, we cannot fail to succeed. And we shall be let into all the Truth that is needful for our fulfilment.
It is a bad symptom in any person to see them lazily believe in the principles of their faith without examining them, to see if they are well or ill founded, and instead make their religion a series of thoughtless assents to forms and doctrines to which they have been accustomed, without any serious application of the practices of piety and virtue.
There is more hope for persons living in open vice coming to their right mind and being awakened to see their errors and be reformed, than those people.
There were men of this character from among the Jews and of the heathen world, who were satisfied with themselves that everything taught to them in their youth was right and true, and nothing further needed to be learned. They rejected without inquiry the teachings of Jesus, and to their utmost, they opposed his teachings.
They did not spiritually improve. What was instilled into them when they were young was to ill-serve them throughout life.
But the Gospel exhorts us to a diligent and careful search after truth, and to grow in knowledge and all wisdom.
Not, indeed, to employ ourselves on barren, useless speculations, merely to gratify our curiosity; but on such points that relate to a holy life and practice, and are of the utmost consequence to our true happiness.
We are to seek out: What directions God has given for our conduct, by whom it is that He has revealed Himself to us, and what assistances He has taught us to look for in the way of our duty.
Finally, we seek after what motives and promises God has laid before us to encourage us in it in all circumstances, to strengthen us against dangerous temptations, to calm and moderate our affections, to give comfort during the unavoidable calamities of life, and carry us safely hereafter to some better state.
This is the knowledge to which Jesus invites us in his Gospel, in which we are to make advances.
A review of our own errors and recovery from them contributes a way to endear the truth to us, and to confirm us in it. In this way, our wise and good Creator gives us a way to produce the greatest good out of our errors and mistakes.
And although we may at times be involved in darkness and perplexity, and our progress will not always be as rapid and continual as we could wish; yet by an honest, persevering diligence we shall get further into the daylight, and see our way clearer before us. We shall discern greater tokens of wisdom in the words of Jesus.
And then we shall find fresh motives and encouragements to do our duty, and be more and more animated in our task to overcome the world, and every obstacle that would divert us from the love of God and the obedience we owe to Him.
(Adapted from the sermons of Rev. Theophilus Lindsey, 1810)
Sunday, October 17, 2021
If we believe Jesus’ words will live forever, what he said during his brief ministry should be the cornerstone of our religion and how we best relate to God. It is this God, our Father, who chose and sent Jesus out into the world to show by word and deed how we should live Godly lives.
Jesus' words and Teachings echo down through the centuries, calling out to us, urging us to follow him. And while similarities with others' words exist, none have challenged us to serve God with such love and devotion and Righteousness as Jesus has done.
There is simply nothing that compares with his Teachings, and they should never be demeaned, wished away or interpreted by others as being insignificant or not applicable for today.
This is meant to be a summary, not a complete listing. And yet, if this is all we knew of Jesus, it would guide us perfectly on the path of life that God wishes for us.
1. Repent – Matthew 4:17
2. Follow Me – Matthew 4:19
3. Rejoice – Matthew 5:12
4. Let Your Light Shine – Matthew 5:16
5. Honor God’s Law – Matthew 5:17–18
6. Let Your Righteousness Exceed Others’ – Matthew 5:20
7. Be Reconciled, Not Angry – Matthew 5:24–25
8. Do Not Commit Adultery – Matthew 5:29–30
9. Let Your “Yes” be “Yes” Without Oaths – Matthew 5:37
10. Go the Extra Mile – Matthew 5:38-42
11. Love And Pray For Your Enemies – Matthew 5:44
12. Seek to Be Perfect In Godliness – Matthew 5:48
13. Do Not Practice Righteousness Just To Be Seen – Matthew 6:1
14. Do Not Pray Like Pagans – Matthew 6:7-8
15. Forgive Those Who Sin Against You – Matthew 6:14
16. Seek Heavenly Treasures – Matthew 6:19–21
17. Seek God’s Kingdom—Matthew 6:33
18. Do Not Be Anxious – Matthew 6:34
19. Do Not Judge Hypocritically – Matthew 7:1
20. Beware of Covetousness – Luke 12:15
21. Ask, Seek, and Knock – Matthew 7:7–8
22. Do Unto Others – Matthew 7:12
23. Seek the Narrow Gate – Matthew 7:13-14
24. Deny Yourself—Luke 9:23
25. Pray For Laborers – Matthew 9:38
26. Be Wise as Serpents – Matthew 10:16
27. Fear Not – Matthew 10:26
28. Take My Yoke Upon You – Matthew 11:29
29. Honor Your Parents—Matthew 15:4
30. Beware of False Prophets—Matthew 7:15
31. Despise Not Little Ones – Matthew 18:10
32. Deal Justly With Offenders – Matthew 18:15
33. Practice Godly Forgiveness (70x7) – Matthew 18:22
34. Honor Marriage – Matthew 19:6
35. Keep God’s Commandments – Matt. 19:17
36. Be a Servant – Matthew 20:26-28
37. Be a House of Prayer – Matthew 21:13
38. Ask in Faith – Matthew 21:21–22
39. Seek Not to Be Honored and Exalted – Luke 14:7-11
40. Bring in the Poor – Luke 14:12–14
41. Render to Caesar—Matthew 22:19–21
42. Love God With All Your Being – Matthew 22:37-38
43. Love Your Neighbor As Yourself – Matthew 22:39
44. Be Born Again – John 3:7
45. Keep My Commandments—John 14:15
46. Feed My Sheep – John 21:15-16
47. Baptize My Disciples—Matthew 28:19
48. Make Disciples – Matthew 28:20
49. Do As I have Done – John 13:15
50. Do Greater Things Than I Have Done – Matthew 14:12
Sunday, October 10, 2021
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.
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.
Sunday, October 3, 2021
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
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
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.
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, 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?