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)

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Jesus Shows Us Our Human Potential

When we think about ourselves and our fellow human beings, we often think of how much we have yet to achieve, not just physically or as a species, but spiritually and morally as individuals.

We know that we are spiritually incomplete, and we are often at a loss as to what our next steps should be to advance ourselves.

We innately know that we can and should be better than we are. We also know that human beings have great potential within us.

However, Christian preachers, especially Evangelical ones, tend to view the very words "human potential" as anti-religious language.

The "human potential movement," of the past century, which does focus on humanity apart from any religious aspects of our lives, hasn't made this a difficult conclusion to draw.

Christian pastors and theologians have long said that many are trying to reach their full human potential without God in the picture. and they are right to point out the futility of striving without God. 

But it can easily, and more positively, be argued that Jesus himself, and the Hebrew Bible that he grew up with and studied as a youth, understood and accepted the fact that human beings had great potential, and explained in great detail how to reach it. In fact, his teachings almost shout the concept that we were created for something better by our Creator.

For example, Jesus says that we are to be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect. And while modern Evangelicals tend to interpret this to mean that we will BE perfected, "one day," in heaven, or when we are "made perfect" by God, apart from any effort of our own, Jesus didn't seem to mean this. 

In fact, the preceding paragraph in the Book of Matthew spells out actions that we are to do over and above what others do, when it comes to loving not only those who love us, but our enemies as well. 

Luke also record Jesus as saying that we are to be merciful, just as our Father in heaven is merciful. In this very teaching, not only is he saying we are able to be as God is, but he teaches us that God is merciful with those who are trying and seeking to do His will.

We know this because elsewhere, he says we are to forgive 70 times seven times (in other words, endlessly) and that if we expect to be forgiven by God for OUR shortcomings, we must forgive others theirs. (Matt. 6:14-15)

And Jesus demonstrated such radical forgiveness as he hung dying on the cross, forgiving those who had put him there.

In these ways, we begin to reach our full human potential in imitation of Jesus himself. And that is a key to understanding our potential as human beings.

Unlike a regular philosopher or a mere teacher who might have said some good things that were recorded in history, Jesus not only taught, but gave us a living example, of how we are to live in accordance with God's will.

He showed us how a perfect human looks in real life. And then he said, "follow me." And not simply to follow him around to DIA, but to "Go, and do likewise" and even "do greater things than I." And finally, "go into all the world, teaching others to obey my teachings."

We can therefore set the preachers' minds at ease. We will not, and cannot, seek to do God's will and become all God wishes for us to become, apart from God's help and the knowledge of what that Godly path is. And that path was made clear by the life and example of Jesus.

We are born with an amazing potential for goodness, and for greatness. This potential must be recognized as a gift of God, and it is reached by seeking to follow our Creator's plan for our lives. 

To do this, we need only follow the teachings of the one whom God chose for us as a perfect example - someone who pleased God with all he did, and in doing so, achieved his full potential as a human being. We may be assured by his life and words that we may do the same.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

We Are Here To Do Great Things! #JesusFollowers

 

Why are we here on the earth? What is our purpose in this life? For millions, these questions haunt their existence and trouble their souls. But there is a Way we can follow that answers these questions. For those who call Jesus their Master, and seek to follow him and his path, the answers come easier.

WHAT should we do with our lives? Jesus tells us that we're here to love God and love others, and serve God and serve others.

Jesus said we should seek to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit those in prison, and comfort the widow and orphan. (Matt. 25)

HOW do we do this? We can begin by doing it by committing ourselves and then... by starting to do what God calls us to do through His chosen Son, Jesus. By Repenting - committing to that kind of change, and asking God for forgiveness for past misdeeds and lack of love we've shown - that starts this process.

This isn't a throw away line, and this LOVE - Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves - isn't the same weak "love" we use to tell others that we "love" chocolate, or salsa. It's a deep, complicated love, and it will take a lifetime to perfect.

A final question is CAN we do this? This level of service and love, for some, doesn't come easy. But we can be assured that we have the ability within us to do what is right and what is good because God says we can do it, and created us with the ability to do all that He asks of us.

We can find verification of God's expectations for humanity by looking to the Hebrew Scriptures.

God told Adam, the proverbial first man, that he could do what was right. He later told Adam's son, Cain, that he could do what was right, too, if he chose to do so.

Both Adam and Cain had the inborn freedom to choose. The fact that in these cases they both chose to do what was wrong with their choice means they, alone, were punished for it.

Perhaps that is why these stories were included in the Hebrew Bible, so we would know that we had a true choice.

In Deuteronomy, we learn that God assures human beings that His commandments are, "not too hard for you," and that God's moral law is "is in your mouth and in your heart, SO THAT YOU CAN DO IT." (Deut. 30:11, 14) Isaiah writes, "Wash yourselves, make yourself clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do well." (1:16)

Isaiah also has no doubt that human beings can, "cease to do evil, and learn to do good."

And many have read the verse in Joshua, in which he says, "choose this day whom you will serve," (Joshua 24:15) The choice remains with us to choose to serve God.

Jesus is completely consistent with the Hebrew Bible in his belief in our ability to do what God asks.

Our Teacher and Master said he did all things that pleased God (John 8:28). He also said we could do all that he did, telling us that we are to be "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (John 14:12, Matt. 5:48)

If we need courage and encouragement to serve others, we should start by reflecting on the gifts we've been given by God, our Creator, including the inspiring, perfect moral life of Jesus, and seek to follow that path perfectly, seeking God's forgiveness when we stumble.

Jesus taught that if we call him our Master, we must seek to follow him, doing all that he had done. (John 13:15; 1 John 2:4-6) Based on his teachings, we definitely have the ability to do great good, if we choose to take up his path and seek to do Righteousness, as he did. It's the choosing that can be hard sometimes, and we will stumble in our efforts, but that does not diminish our ability to do the good, which is God-given.

Just as Jesus frequently did, we may call upon God in prayer for further strength, and be assured that we may obtain it. As James, his brother, wrote, we can always seek greater wisdom from God. (James 1:5)

So, Jesus said we were able to do what was right. He believed that God gave us the ability to stand tall before Him, with willing hands to serve others and bring forth God's Kingdom here on earth.

It only remains for us to pick up the challenge Jesus lays down for us, and begin doing good in his name.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Let's Not Be Unjust Stewards #JesusFollowers

 


The Parable of the Unjust Steward is an exceedingly instructive parable, and is applicable to every one of us. 

A large landowner had a steward whom he detected was wasting his property and taking his money. He therefore resolved to deprive him of his office and dismiss him. So he called him and told him to bring his books to him, so he could see how matters stood.

The steward was a cunning man, with no moral principles, and since he was too lazy to work, and he knew that he had no chance of getting another person to employ him as steward, he devised a plan. He'd make his master's tenants be indebted to him, so that, when he was fired, they'd let him stay in their houses.

Acting on this plan, he gave the first tenant, a grower of olives, a great deal on the rent owed to the steward's master. Then he gave another great deal to a second tenant, who grew wheat on land owned by the steward's master.

He did the same with all the other tenants, giving them new leases at a value greatly below what the several farms were worth.

As the steward did all this while he was still acting as steward, and his acts were binding on his employer. His master, therefore, though he felt convinced that these leases were all fraudulent, but it would be difficult to prove they were fraudulent.

Though the steward increased the scorn and anger of his master, he gained the friendship of all the tenants; indeed, he made them his servants.

When the steward was thrown out of his master's house, these tenants let him stay with them, in their houses, and kept him all the days of his life. 

Our Master teaches us that we are not to imitate the unjust steward in his dishonesty. Jesus shows how necessary it is for us to be faithful and  honest if we wish to enter into heaven.

"One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?" (Luke 16:10-12)

He tells us that the person who is faithful in little things will also be faithful in great; and that a person who acts dishonestly with regard to the affairs of this life, will act in the same dishonest and unfaithful way with regard to the heavenly riches.

When we read Jesus' parables we're likely to think they don't apply to us. We flatter ourselves. When we look at the parable a little closer we might see that we stand convicted of doing more or less the very same as this unjust steward.

Every one of us, like this steward, has taken something which isn't our own, but belongs to his Eternal Master. Our life, our strength, our time, our talents, our goods, our money,  are not our own, but God's. He entrusted each of these to us, so we might be faithful stewards of each. Let us each ask ourselves the question: Have we have faithfully used all of these?

Do we bring ourselves under the same condemnation pronounced against the unjust man in the parable? He has been unfaithful in that which was another's, and God will therefore not let him get what might have been his own - even eternal life.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. James Stark, 1866)

Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Piety and Example of #Jesus. #JesusFollowers

The effectiveness of teaching by example has always been known. In order to have the right notions of our duty, it is important not only that principles be laid down for our direction, but that we are shown how they’re to be applied to our character and conduct.

And when an example is presented in a light which interests, there will be awakened an involuntary feeling of emulation, a desire of resembling the character which we are taught to admire and love.

In this view, the life of our savior, Jesus, is the key part of the moral system of the Gospel. He came to be the example as well as the teacher of human beings. In order to become this, it was necessary that he should be placed in situations like ours; that, bearing the infirmities of our nature, encompassed by our needs, and exposed to our temptations, he might mark out by his own conduct the course in which we should all walk through trial, difficulty, and danger.

And his condition in the world was indeed like that of a common man, though it was one of extreme exposure and suffering. We may follow him like a brother in frailty, and danger, and trouble, from the manger where his infancy was laid, to the tomb where he slept to be troubled no more.

He was tried like us, by hunger and thirst, and then by festivals and feasts. He was persecuted by enemies, then surrounded by affectionate friends. Sometimes he was insulted and reviled, sometimes was received with shouts of joy, and eagerly followed by multitudes who would raise him to earthly power.

Same in nature, though not in degree, with those of our life; like these are the occasions on which we are commonly called to show the strength of our regard to God, and the sincerity of our dispositions to serve him. While our situations of trial distantly resemble his, the way in which our savior lived presents a pattern for our imitation this is both perfect and attainable.

This view of Jesus’ character, as one of common life, as one which we may imitate and resemble is important. I hope, that by dwelling on a few of the modes in which his piety expressed itself, we may better know our own duties.

The first thing to be noticed in respect to his piety is his devotional frame of mind. It marked all of his conversations; it was in the feeling way in which he spoke about God; and the way in which he spoke with all around him.

In the second place, his piety was shown by his referring all his own powers to the Father, and considering all as derived from Him.

He continually assures us that he "came not of himself," and that “the Father sent him;" thus attributing all his benefits to God. He particularly attributes all the parts of his moral system to God.

If he speaks of the religion of mercy which he had come to dispense, he points us to God as its author. “The words which I speak, I speak not of myself; ” and "my doctrine is not mine, but His Who sent me;" and “as the Father hath taught me, I speak these things.”

The same feeling of dependence, the same grateful sense of God's goodness, we ought to exercise. All our blessings, like all his, flow from God. As God invested Jesus with all powers necessary for his undertaking, so He has given to us all the ability which we need to accomplish the work given us to do.

We see the piety of our savior when he seeks the direction and aid of God, when occasions of great importance occurred. The night before his disciples were chosen, he was in prayer. And it was natural, therefore, that before he selected them, he should commend the interests of his religion to God.

Finally, the piety of our savior was greatly shown in his sufferings. You cannot fail to remember the meekness with which he bore so many insults, the patience with which he endured the severest pains, the submission with which he passed through agony and death.

Sufferings come to us all, though they may be small when compared with his. There are disappointments which will destroy our best laid plans, there are pains and sickness to be endured, friends that we lose, and of course, a final hour of agony to be passed through. We should now prepare for these trials by acquiring a spirit of piety; by forming our hearts to the love of God; and by maintaining a humble and affectionate trust in his wisdom and paternal goodness.

It was such an attitude as this which sustained our savior in the hours of his agony, and it is only such a spirit which can sustain us, when diseased, forsaken, or dying. 

And it will not merely sustain us in this world; for it is this attitude of piety, with the practical habits that arise from it, which will make us ready for a world which suffering and death never enter.

(Adapted from a collection of sermons by Rev. John Emery Abbot, 1829)


Sunday, May 9, 2021

"And I Will Give You Rest" #JesusFollowers

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)

To come unto Jesus is to believe in his Divinely appointed mission and Authority; to believe in his promises, and to make use of such assistance as his religion offers. 

By giving rest is meant, either deliverance from the sorrows which before afflicted us, or the aid of such encouragements and motives to bear them, that the pain and weight which before distressed might be lightened, and ease of mind take place of former disturbance; and that it is our object, to show what these encouragements and motives are, and what is the nature of the relief which his religion may be expected to give.

The burdens under which we labor, from which the Gospel may be expected to relieve, are chiefly those of a moral nature, arising from a consciousness of guilt, and fear of the Divine displeasure; from a sense of the dominion and power of sin, the prevalence of temptation, and the strength of evil habits; or from a sense of the weakness of already-formed resolutions, and the too frequent defects in our duty.

Some persons who are yet awakened to a sense of sin are still oppressed with the weighty burden of moral uneasiness and distress from the dominion and power of sin, the prevalence of temptations, and the strength of their vicious habits.

When the eyes are opened to a conviction of guilt, and liableness to the righteous judgments of God, Conscience then begins to be uneasy at the view of the present tyranny and absolute possession which sin retains over it. It then begins to feel the truth of our Savior's words (John 8:34) “Whosoever commits sin " (that is, habitually) the same is the servant, or slave, of sin." 

We know that God has declared that He will reject all who continue to sin, and though we are taught to hope that He will forgive sins that are past, it is only on our sincere repentance; and no repentance can be admitted as sincere, which is not followed by newness of life.

As, then, we cherish any hopes of the mercy, acceptance, and favor of God, we must necessarily see all the reason in the world to be uneasy at the continuance of the power and dominion of sin in ourselves; because it puts an effectual bar in the way of all our hopes, both of the pardon of sins past, and of the final acceptance of God.  

Let us then enquire what means Jesus has provided to deliver those from the dominion and power of sin, who come unto him, by a steady faith in his Divine Mission, and an attitude to submit to his authority and government.

First, His holy laws give us a clear and full view both of sin and duty; they leave us at no uncertainty concerning either the one or the other. They represent sin in all its odiousness and deformity, and duty in all its genuine beauty and loveliness.

And it must be obvious how great a help it is towards a right conduct, to have a clear knowledge of what is right and wrong - and that it is a happy step towards a recovery from what is evil, to have a knowledge of what is evil, and conviction of the happiness of what is good.

Jesus did not fail to give us light and instruction. So let not us fail ourselves by not making use of his assistance to turn from away from darkness and towards God. Let's fortify ourselves with all those holy doctrines and precepts which are particularly levelled against those sins which most easily afflict us.

The religion of Jesus furnishes us with many ways to assist us to overcome the dominion and power of sin. The chief cause of the prevalence of temptation, and the support of the dominion of sin, is the neglect of cultivating the habit of reflection, and patient serious consideration. We are not lacking sufficient light to inform us of moral evil, or of motives to dissuade us from the commission of it.

The Gospel furnishes us with both in great abundance. Jesus has offered to us every instruction and every motive calculated to produce the most desirable effects. There lacks nothing but our own attention and sincere belief.

He assures us that God has now established His own Kingdom among us, and calls us to be subjects of it; that the goal of this Kingdom is to make us a holy people.

That though He has promised the pardon of sin to the penitent, yet this by no means encourages us to continue in sin, but that, on the contrary, the mercy of God is of no use unless it leads us to repentance and a new life.

Let us, therefore, come to Jesus by a diligent inquiry into his precepts: let us cultivate a teachable attitude; and with it, diligently search his will.

Let his word be the subject of our frequent enquiry, and let it dwell in us by frequent recollection and meditation. Let us by this means get his laws written, not only on the leaves of our Bibles, but on our memories, and the tables of our hearts; that we may always have them at hand on every emergency, to be able to confront every temptation with an appropriate command of Jesus.

(Adapted from a the collected sermons of Rev. William Turner, Jr., 1839)

Sunday, May 2, 2021

When You Pray. #JesusFollowers


 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Matt. 6:7-8)

The reasonableness of our worship, and of prayer to God, prompts us most naturally to look to Him Who made us, in the fitness of acknowledging His continual favors, and the assurance we have that He is present with us.

God attends to and directs those who seek to recommend themselves to Him in the best way they are able.

The power, wisdom and goodness displayed in bringing us into being, and the various ways and methods to make it happy to us, are a just foundation for this our application to our Maker.

Nor can He ever be absent from us, so as not to hear and attend to us. For the same divine energy by which he first made us and all nature is necessary to support us in being. We cannot divest ourselves of the idea that His continual presence is with us.

We need never fear our being overlooked or disregarded by God. Our attention indeed can only be fixed on one object at once, and we are soon disturbed and perplexed with a multiplicity of affairs. But, as the sacred writer speaks, “Yahweh’s eyes are everywhere, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” (Prov. 15:3)

These natural grounds of the duty of prayer and thanksgiving to God appear plain and obvious, and afford much satisfaction to the pious mind.

Nevertheless it is a great privilege, that we have the express encouragement from God to offer up our prayers to Him, which He has given us by holy men, His prophets; and last of all by our Savior, Jesus.

And in that part of our Master’s sermon which is before us, he is giving some cautions to his followers concerning this duty, and directing them how to perform it in the way most acceptable to God and useful to themselves.

After severely condemning many in those days, who, by their holy outward appearance of great devotion, sought to impose on the world that they were better and more to be trusted than others, to serve their private ends of gain and ambition.

Jesus’ words are a caution to those who thought they were religious because of the frequency and length of their prayers, or who thought so poorly of their Maker, as if He, the all-knowing God, needed to be told often about their needs, as if He had forgotten them!

Our prayers and thanks to Him are not needed for any information or satisfaction that He can derive from them, they are in the highest degree serviceable to ourselves, and therefore are fitly and most kindly enjoined by Him who seeks our good.

Everything in us, good or bad, is the effect of habit. To keep up a due sense of God, it is necessary to think of Him frequently, to bring Him, His goodness, His greatness, freshly to our minds. And this is done most effectually in prayer, which puts us into His presence.

To pray with any degree of fervor or earnestness, one must have some persuasion that it will be of service to him to procure what he prays for.

The Scriptures therefore uniformly represent Almighty God as listening to the prayers of human beings, and disposed to bestow upon them everything they ask that is good for them.

However, as we ourselves are creatures so shortsighted and unknowing what might be good for us, and our heavenly Father, who is ever most kindly disposed toward us, as our Master here tells us, knows what things we have need of before we ask him, we should never pray for anything but only so far as His wisdom may see it best for us.

The great subject of our prayers to God undoubtedly ought always to be for our virtuous improvement, and to be assisted to do his will in all things, and that we may be assisted in watching over ourselves where we are most likely to fall; giving us such a great love of wisdom and goodness it will keep us above the narrow gratifications of our appetites and every unlawful desire, and make all the temptations of the world lose their power over us.

The great end of prayer is to bring us to live under a habitual sense of the divine presence, with which it will be impossible for any to live or continue in any known evil or dishonest practice.

Far from interrupting or taking us away from our worldly pursuits, prayer furnishes us with a greater ability to go through the necessary duties of life, and spread continual comfort, cheerfulness, and joy all around us.

 (Adapted from a sermon by Theophilus Lindsey, given in March, 1778)

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Gospel Of #Jesus Is A Challenge To Serve Others #JesusFollowers


In his ministry, Jesus challenged all those around him.

He challenged the religious authorities who led a faith of empty ritual and mindless words to instead embrace an authentic faith of love and devotion.

He challenged the wealthy to give up the idol of money.

He challenged those who would exclude the weak, the poor, the “outcast” and the outsider to be fully inclusive, because God loves all people equally. (Luke 4:12-13)

And Jesus challenged average people to “come, follow me,” and change the world with their works of Righteousness. (Matt. 4:19)

Jesus’ teachings, when seen as the core of his ministry, challenge us today, as well.

In fact, the Good News that Jesus preached is nothing but a challenge to our comfortable lives. It challenges the lazy faith which is based on mere words and devoid of love of others or Good Works on their behalf.

It’s a challenge to us all, individually, to begin to reach our full potential, by living the way God wishes us to live – lives of selfless service and love.

The words, life, teachings and death of our Master, Jesus, challenge us to do, to act, to follow, to serve, to be better, to do more, to try harder, to be humble, yet Righteousness, to serve God not money, to lose ourselves, but gain eternity.

Jesus preached to challenge us, and calls us today to live as examples in his name. As God’s chosen Spokesman, Jesus authoritatively calls us to take up his challenge and to follow his example.  (John 13:15; 14:12)

We are called by Jesus to seek and do Good, in order to advance God’s Kingdom on this earth.

Jesus lived, taught and died as a pure moral example for us, so that we should follow him and be made perfect in Righteousness. We do this with God’s help and a reliance on God’s holy Spirit.

And we are required, on this journey of Faith, to always seek God's forgiveness for our faults and failures as we strive towards the perfect expression of Righteousness God's Anointed Son, Jesus, has modeled for us.

We must seek to follow Jesus in ALL his teachings – because Jesus followed God in ALL things, and said we could do all that he had done. (John 8:29; 12:50; 13:15; 1 John 2:6)

We are called to show by our ACTS that we are heeding his call, and are taking up his challenge – not in a prideful way, but in a way that is pleasing to God.

Jesus clearly calls us to an active Faith - a Faith that Works. His teachings, his Gospel, is a challenge worth accepting and worth LIVING, because it leads to directly to a spiritually complete life and, God willing, to eternal life with our Creator.

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 weak emotionalism.

Jesus calls us to love each other, our neighbors, with the same zeal with which we love God – a complete and total love. (Mark 12:31)

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.

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.)

Jesus calls on us to forgive others, and makes this duty a condition of being forgiven by God (Matt. 6:15-16.)

Jesus calls on us to let our Good Deeds shine like lights in this world, so that others will see by that light the goodness and love of our Father and Creator, which He has placed within us all. (Matt. 5:15-16)

And 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.

When we encounter what is being claimed to be “the Gospel,” if it fails to challenge us to pursue Good Works, we know that it's a false and easy Faith we've encountered – a wide gate, rather than the Gospel preached from the very mouth of Jesus.

That Jesus challenges us with incredibly high goals is undeniable. That he believed we could achieve them is proven by his words. And because Jesus, a human being like us, has done this, we are assured that we, too, may accomplish God’s will for our lives.

So let’s take up the Good News of Jesus’ challenge in our lives and let it shine within us for all to see!


Sunday, April 18, 2021

What Did #Jesus Teach About Using Wealth Wisely? [#JesusFollowers]



Jesus never lost an opportunity to teach a moral lesson; so he illustrated the subject of riches with a parable.

A certain rich man's ground brought forth such abundant crops, that he could only get them safely housed by pulling down all his old barns and building larger ones.

When this was done, and he saw his large stores which would provide for every contingency for many years, he resolved to begin to enjoy himself. He had now succeeded in attaining that for which he had labored many years, and for which he had likely denied himself every luxury, and had perhaps also oppressed the laboring poor who worked under him.

He had lived until then as if this world were all there is, and there was no hereafter, as if this world and its goods were for him alone, and as if he had no interest in the distresses of his neighbors, whom his helping hand might perhaps have saved.

Little did he know he was not to live to enjoy those accumulated stores; for God gave forth the fiat, "This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" (Luke 12:20)

This parable had a double reference. It not only strongly illustrated the folly of being covetous of worldly riches, seeing we might never be spared to enjoy them; but it also served as the connecting link between what he had previously said as to men being only able to kill the body, while God was able to punish the soul in hell-fires, and what he immediately discoursed on afterwards, namely, the necessity of providing for the future life more even than for this.

Our Savior's conclusion, therefore, to this parable, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God," (Luke 12:21) naturally led him to discourse on the necessity of seeking first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, when all things we have need of here will be added to us.

Some men's love for riches is such, that they will leave no means untried to gain them, however dishonorable these means may be. These men, therefore, forsake the paths of honesty, and ruin their own souls to secure that perishing dust which they cannot carry with them out of this world.

Riches render such men proud and uncharitable, and shut out every holy feeling. They think their riches can buy everything, but it can neither purchase the favor of God nor the respect of their fellow-men.

How true, then, was the saying of Jesus regarding such men, “ “How difficult it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!" (Luke 18:24) And the reason for this is fully apparent; for "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:34)

If, therefore, your treasure is on earth, and is composed of earthly things, earthly thoughts alone will occupy your mind, and leave no time, no thought, no leisure for God or heavenly things.

Our Father in heaven is a merciful and gracious God; but he is also just, and shall reward every man according to his works. (Psalm 62:12) 

It is therefore every person's duty and interest to live in preparation for eternity, as we do not know how soon our lives shall end. No one is sure of their life even for a day. The thousand accidents that may cut us off, we see exemplified in our friends and brethren around us. Those whom we saw in full vigor in the morning, are often seen cut off before the evening.

God will judge the world.

That is a momentous subject to us all, and is one on which we ought to have clear notions, or else we might commit the most egregious of blunders, and deceive ourselves with the belief that it is all well with us, when we are in reality slaves to evildoing.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. James Stark 1810-1890)

Sunday, April 11, 2021

We Have a Duty To Follow #Jesus! #JesusFollowers


Whatever we speak or do, we say or do in acknowledgment that we are disciples of Jesus.

Not that we are to preface every word or action with a solemn declaration to this effect, but that whenever a fit occasion offers, we should exhibit a constant expression of our principles in the propriety and decency of our behavior.

We should show to the world that we are followers of Jesus, both by our general profession, and by regulating our conduct in particular actions by an open regard to his laws, respect to his authority, and hope in the accomplishment of his promises. And we should take care not to contradict our profession by willfully breaking any of his commandments, or living in a visible disregard to his teachings.

Doing all we do in the name of Jesus implies that we consider his honor in all we say or do, and act upon a principle of love to him. For he said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” (John 14:15)

So, whatever word or action you do that will cause the name of Jesus to be honored, whatever will place any particular doctrines or duties of his teachings in a positive light, do not let that opportunity pass.

Let every part of your conduct be regulated by a desire to express your own honor of Jesus as a lawgiver, by yielding a uniform obedience to his commands. For, is it not the duty of all Jesus Followers to promote the honor of their Master?

This implies that we order our whole conduct by a conscientious regard to his authority, derived from his Father, God, and in strict obedience to all his precepts, which he delivered in commission from the Father.

Thus we should do all things in the name of our Master, Jesus. His word should be constantly before our eyes, and direct our words.

This is the duty in which our divine Faith confers a great honor and benefit on those who duly observe it. Our Father will accept the sincere worship of those who present themselves to Him in the name of the Master Jesus. 

We should consider what he has required of us, and we should reject temptation for his sake and because of the authority which Jesus received from the Father; and if we act thus, we may justly be said to do so in his name. 

When we perform any of the common duties of life - for instance, charity in relieving the poor - we should consider what our Master requires and what example he set for us in this respect.

And when we do relieve the poor, we act in his name, we conform to his religion, and we imitate his example and obey his commands. 

We should express ourselves with all the plainness and simplicity of language which he required of his followers when he said, “Let your yes be yes, and your no, no."

Are we ashamed or negligent of making an open profession of our relation to him, or of discharging the duties which he has required? But how can we be so, when we know his declaration, “Whoever shall be ashamed of me or my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed"?

We ought to copy the example of his holy and blameless life, and regulate our whole behavior “in word and in deed,” by his precepts. 

Then all who have obeyed him, he will acknowledge us to be his own, and receive us to be forever with him.

 (Adapted from a sermon by William Turner, Jr., 1839)

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Human Beings Matter to God! #JesusFollowers


“Not one of them is forgotten before God.” Luke 12:6

From certain points of view, nothing seems cheaper, or less entitled to remembrance, than human lives. 

They come like the waves that break on the shore and die, and every new tide washes out the traces of its predecessor. 

Thousands of lives begin every day; thousands end every day. The cradle is always full, and so is the coffin; and what comes between them in ordinary cases is usually little marked by any but the nearest of kin, and is forgotten by neighbors in a year. 

Few raise their heads above the common level, and ordinary lives are hidden and lost in the general mass. 

When I walk amid village graveyards, I find thousands of decaying stones, covered with names representing lives once active and useful, perhaps, that are now, after only a century, wholly without any memory among men. 

The name means nothing definite, calls up no recollection, and matches with nothing special. It was a man, a woman, a child; but the name calls back no image, and is associated with no character. 

How frail and insignificant such experiences make human life appear, and especially one individual life!

How little importance seems to attach to what so soon becomes as untraceable as a drop of rain that has fallen into the ocean! 

Of course, the melancholy impression I have described is largely due to a mere infirmity of human faculties, to dullness of imagination.

Taken together these individuals are all-important. They make families, and towns, and parties that determine who shall rule over us. They make the wilderness a garden; they and plant and reap our fields, buy and consume the industry of others, and make up the great common life of the world. 

In fact, the individual is not this mere indifferent, monotonous, undistinguishable atom in a mass, where he is little or nothing, and the mass is all important. The reverse is true. 

After all, it is individuals alone that have mind, or heart, or will, or knowledge, or worth. 

All the love, sympathy, worth, hope, faith, in the world, is in individual hearts; all the life is in individual shape; there is no such thing as a generation, or a race, except on paper and in words. 

The truth is, human being’s lives and souls are not commensurate with this small earth and its transitory interests and affairs. 

The most superstitious or blind instincts of faith in the least sophisticated forms of Christian belief are nearer the real facts of our human significance as individuals than the secular theories of the worldly, who would make this world the be-all and the end-all of life. 

But when we reflect that our spirits are made in the Divine image, and are capable of everlasting development in the celestial likeness; and when we know that matter gains no moral glory by magnitude, however vast, that endless worlds on worlds have not one single thought, feeling, aspiration, of their own, and that we alone, or spirits like us, can ever perceive their beauty or order, or rise to the thought of their Maker, we can begin to understand that, though the heavens may roll up like a scroll and the stars cease to give their light, the humblest soul that lives will survive the decay, and be looking on a new heavens and a new earth, in which dwelleth righteousness, when they are no more.

Yes, not one of us is forgotten before God, not a sparrow, not a lily of the field, not a hair of the head; how much less one immortal soul! Let no person dare to think lightly of themselves.

No one can afford to forget that if they have any lofty conceptions of God or Jesus, or of other human beings they think great, they owe it to the immense discerning powers of their own God-endowed soul. 

Human beings alone can grow Godlike. We are made a little lower than the angels, and are over all other creatures as a ruler. It is not our exceptional beauty, or gifts, or culture, that gives us this distinction. It is our nature; and that nature is priceless and glorious in every single specimen.

Ah, think not lowly of yourselves, and sink into no common mass of being, as if your individuality were ever destructible or not all significant. You can be nobody but yourself. You cannot hide away, nor be lost in any crowd. 

You carry the glory and the burden of your individuality. You have an immortal title in this personality you possess. Seas could not drown it out, nor could fire, though it were of the heavens in flame, burn it up. You are, and you must be, eternally yourself, and you have a soul, whose powers and faculties lay hold on eternity. 

And this self is directly related to God, — is precious to Him. It contains the awful, the sublime, the ineffable, as well as the trivial, the present, and the earthly. 

God is not so busy that He overlooks you. 

What do you mean by stifling the dignity and significance of your soul? No one is forgotten before God. No one is insignificant in all the immortal list, and no man is other than a countersigned proof-copy of his Maker, in whom God will defend his rights and claim his work. 

Every true soul, however forgotten, unknown, or undesired among men, has its divine patron, companion, and friend in God, the Father of spirits, its pattern in Jesus, the Savior of souls, and its sure and steadfast hope of immortal blessedness. Not one of them is forgotten before God!

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Henry W. Bellows, published 1886)

Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Nature of The Gospel #JesusFollowers

The Gospel presents us with clear and comprehensive views of the nature and character of the Deity. 

It teaches that there is but one God: by this simple principle, expressed in every way which is necessary to make it fully understood and cordially received, putting an end to heathen idolatry, which was so fruitful in practices of the most disgraceful and baneful nature, and which led to the most extreme corruption of morals.

It teaches us that this great Being is a Spirit; possessed of every natural and moral excellence in an infinite degree; almighty, all-wise, all-just, all-holy, and all-gracious; exercising a righteous moral administration over His creatures; rewarding the righteous, and punishing the wicked.

In short, that He is perfect goodness, pure and unlimited Love, our Friend and our Father; yet at the same time a Being of perfect rectitude, our Sovereign and our Judge.

The Gospel teaches us what the requirements of this great and gracious Being are. 

It instructs, by precept and by example, that we should love Him with supreme affection; that we should exercise a steady faith and a devout and holy communion with Him; and that we should make it our first and highest concern to do His will. 

It requires that we should exercise a careful government over our own hearts; that we should suppress all inordinate affections and all high thoughts of ourselves; that we should be sober, temperate, and chaste in all things.

We should be humble and watchful, earnestly desirous to be, as well as to do, what God commands. In short, the religion that is pure and undefiled before God is to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)

Jesus is never represented as the cause, but as the effect of the Father's love: and to imagine that God was not disposed to be merciful to mankind till Jesus wrested pardon from him (as it has sometimes been expressed), is to contradict the simple but all-important assertion of the Gospel, that "God so loved the world…" (John 3:16)

It is nowhere stated in the Scriptures that God could not forgive sins without the death of Jesus, or without some other full satisfaction.

But many passages prove that though perfectly just, God is also essentially merciful; and which supply us with Divine declarations of pardon to the repentant sinner, and examples of the extension of it, without any reference to the death of Jesus.

The justice of God, as far as we have the means of knowing, consists in the due distribution of rewards and punishments according to the moral condition and character of the objects of His justice.

Jesus had to suffer for the completion of his spiritual excellence, and it was for the welfare of his followers that he should set them an example that they should follow in his steps – an example of meekness, of fortitude, of patience, of gentleness and mercy, of firm endurance and self-denial, of boundless love to man, and of obedience unto death.

When considering the effects and purposes of the death of Jesus, it should never be forgotten that they were all in view in the apostles' minds, as a whole, as they should be in ours; and then we cannot fail to perceive, that the effects on the spiritual excellence of our Master’s character, and the perfecting of his example, and all their blessed influences in the hearts of his disciples, are among the purposes of his death.

The death of Jesus is of service to only those who through the work of Jesus are redeemed from all iniquity; and its efficacy in effecting our salvation depends on its producing, through the influence of his sufferings, his precepts, doctrines, spirit and example, that spiritual sanctification, and eternal purification, which will make us dead to sin, and alive to God.

If neither our Master himself, during his ministry on earth, nor his apostles whose preachings are recorded in the book of Acts teach the doctrine that the death of Jesus was a propitiatiary sacrifice for the sins of men, is it reasonable to conclude that it cannot be essential to salvation?

There is no passage in support of the doctrine that the death of Jesus had some mysterious, unknown, immediate efficacy in obtaining from God the pardon of sin.

Persons who entertain this very doctrine of atonement, should shrink from the notion that Jesus was in any strict sense punished for the sins of men, or that he was substituted for them to bear the Father's displeasure, or that he thus made satisfaction for their sins.

Still less should they allow that the death of Jesus appeased the wrath of God, and made him merciful. 

Of such a doctrine, often taught by theologians, I do not hesitate to declare that it is not Christianity, that it is not Judaism, that it is heathenism.

Abridged from a sermon by Lant Carpenter (1843)