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)

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Strong Minds, Strong Spirit - An Exhortation by Joseph Priestley #JesusFollowers

A mind destitute of knowledge is like a field on which no culture has been bestowed, which, the richer it is, the worse weeds it will produce. If nothing good be sown in it, it will be occupied by plants that are useless or obnoxious.

Thus, the mind of man can never be wholly barren.

Finding yourselves, therefore, in such a world as this, in which nothing is at a standstill, it behooves you seriously to reflect upon your situation and prospects. 
Form then, the generous resolution (and every thing depends upon your resolution) of being at present what you will certainly wish you had been some years from now, what your best friends now wish you to be, and what your Maker has intended, fitted, and enabled you to be.

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.

If you would distinguish yourselves as human beings, and attain the true dignity and proper happiness of your natures, it must be by the exercise of those faculties which are peculiar to you as men.

If you have no higher objects than the gratification of your animal appetites and passions, you rank yourselves with the brute beasts. 

In fact, you are incapable of the happiness of brute animals. Aspire therefore, to those superior pursuits and gratifications for which you were formed, and which are the prerogative and glory of your natures.

Let it be seen, that when God is considered as the proper object of reverence, love and confidence, as the benevolent Father of all His offspring of humanity, and their righteous and impartial moral Governor, the principle of obedience is the most ingenuous and effectual.

Cherish the most genuine gratitude to the Father of lights, that your minds are no longer bewildered with the gloom and darkness, in which our excellent religion was, for so many ages, involved. And let this consideration be a motive with you to walk as becomes so glorious a light.

In a thing so interesting to you as the business of religion, affecting the regulation of your conduct here, so as to prepare you for immortal happiness hereafter, respect no human authority and stand fast in the liberty with which God has made you free.

March 24, 2021 will mark the 288th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Priestley, a scientist (discoverer of oxygen) as well as a religious thinker and theological speaker. The preceding was adapted excerpts from his book "Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion," published in 1772.

(Adapted from the "Dedication of 'Institutes of Natural & Revealed Religion,' by Joseph Priestley, 1772)

Sunday, March 14, 2021

The Proper Humanity Of #Jesus. #JesusFollowers

To entertain all just, honorable, and worthy notions of Christianity, as it is represented to us in the writings of the new testament, is certainly a matter of the highest importance to mankind.

And it is no less certain, that all wrong and mistaken notions of it must be, more or less, hurtful and prejudicial to the interests of true religion.

Especially when they are received, as sacred Truths, or scripture Truths, and when those who have once imbibed them, or have been bred up in them , are afraid to examine them with the freedom and impartiality which they ought to do.

But so it is, and much to be lamented, that the scriptures have, at all events, been made to fit in with human systems, creeds and confessions, which have been taught and set up in lieu of them.

And these are not only contrary to the real meaning of the sacred writers, but in many respects absurd and inconsistent in themselves, and even repugnant to the most fundamental principles of all religion, both natural and revealed.

Such articles are consistent with human contrivance, and not the scriptures of truth, which are the only criterion by which to judge of the true, sound faith.

Now, since the doctrine of the UNITY, or of one God, is the first and chief article, and has been always allowed to hold the first place, in every creed, this will naturally introduce the immediate and present design of this paper, by leading us to make some interesting and serious reflections, which must, I think, be very plain and obvious to a common understanding.

If the Unity of God then, is the first and leading principle in religion, and the truth of this article was never once called in question by those who have been most divided in other matters, I may fairly ask, what a weak and groundless opinion must that be which many have entertained concerning "person of Christ,"  As if
 he, the man Christ Jesus, differed from all other men, in having two distinct natures, the human and the divine, or that of God and man, essentially and personally united!

This, I am truly persuaded, has led many pious, well-meaning persons, through the strength of custom and prejudice, or the want of honest and free enquiry, to put a wrong, and oftentimes very absurd sense upon many passages of the New Testament.

I would be far from entering into quarrelsome contention with any who may differ from me in their religious sentiments.

But I may be allowed to expostulate and reason a little upon the point itself, without giving reasonable or just offense to any, and especially, as I apprehend it to be a matter of moment, and what ought indeed to be maturely weighed, and well understood, if we would be ever able rightly to interpret that revelation which God has given us, or to set the doctrines of the New Testament in a consistent, easy, and amiable light.

I would therefore fain learn, where we have any ground to believe what is called the "hypostatic union," or a duplicity of natures in the person of Christ.

Was it not as man, and in that nature only, that Christ here prays to God as his Father in the Gospel of John? And had he not hereby taught us, even all his disciples and brethren, to pray in like manner to that same almighty Being, whom he expressly styles his God and our God, his Father and our Father (John 20:17)

The doctrine of his strict and proper humanity from this, as well as many other places, is very apparent to the understanding and reason of every man.

Or where it is that we are taught or instructed in any part of scripture, to speak of Jesus, as many of our divines have done, sometimes as God, at other times as man - a mere imaginary distinction this such as only tends to embarrass and confound, but it is far from conveying to the mind any one clear, rational, or instructive idea concerning, either the one God, or the one Lord Jesus Christ.

Our Savior prays, "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (17:20-21)

Does he then pray to himself? Reason and understanding recoils at such an unnatural perversion, such a distortion of ideas!

Let learned and inquisitive men argue and debate this matter as long as they will, this must always pass with me for an axiom, or an indubitable self-evident truth, that Jesus and his Father are two beings, two distinct natures.

("A Comment On Some Remarkable Passages Of Christ's Prayer At The Close Of His Public Ministry," by Rev. Paul Cardale, 1772)

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Seeking After, And Doing, Righteousness. #JesusFollowers

"Then the Righteous will shine like the Sun in the Kingdom of their Father." (Matt. 13:43)

These words lead our thoughts to that awful and illustrious day when every person’s religious and moral character will be set in its true light, and made manifest to the world.

The eternal states of all the dead will be finally determined, and an open and visible distinction be made in favor of the righteous and the good, by the equitable and unerring sentence of that Supreme judge, Who knows the secrets of every breast, and will render to all according to how their Works have been.

The practice of righteousness is the only sure proof that we are born of God, as vice is an unquestionable proof of a person's belonging to evil. (1 John ii. 29.)

Righteousness in the heart is the Love of what is right, a love of Truth and virtue or of whatever appears to be right both in sentiment and practice.

The principles that are lodged and cherish in the heart, whether good or bad, will always produce different effects.

So it may be said of the doctrines of Christianity, or the principles of religion, when sowing them in the heart.

In some, they are wholly stilted and suppressed, and in others they produce the fruits of righteousness, more or less, according to the moral State and complection of the mind.

The righteous and the wicked, good and bad men, of every degree, now pass under the denomination of Christians.

Much depends on the discarding or banishing from our hearts whatever may prove a hindrance or obstruction, two are receiving and embracing the truth.

Of this kind are all groundless prejudices, all evil or artificial suggestions, all malice and wickedness, all pride, obstinacy, and self-conceit. All who indulge in passions and bad examples are instruments of evil.

These, and other such things, have a pernicious influence. They tend to deprave and harden the heart, and prevent the doctrines of True religion for making any deep and lasting impressions.

If we would receive the doctrines and precepts of Christianity, to profit by them, we must root out, and discard those irregular affections towards the world which always obstruct a holy life, or tend, at best, to make people hypocrites in religion. 

And the concealed wickedness of some, and the secret piety and virtue of others, may be one principal reason of a future judgment that, however people may pass at present, Justice may be done to all at last.

Righteousness is a sincere and prevailing compliance of the whole soul with what we apprehend or perceive, upon an impartial enquiry, to be the mind and will of God, whether in things to be believed or done, abstracted from any undue regard to the opinions, sentiments, and practices of humanity.

Where these principles rule and govern the heart, they cannot fail to recommend us to God, and to all the wise, sober, and considerate part of humanity.

A sincere desire of righteousness is righteousness, as it argues a right state of mind and is always productive of suitable dispositions and endeavors.

By "righteous," we are not to understand it as an exact and sinless conformity to the law of God, or even such as made selling virtue, and are eminently good. But it is their upright and sincere, such as those who desire and endeavor to do the will of God, so far as they are acquainted with it, or can arrive to the knowledge and understanding of it.

As it is part of a man to think freely, so it always argues a nobleness and greatness of spirit to be true to the dictates of reason, and to all its wise and good resolutions. 

Next to our seeking and receiving the truth in love, it should be our great care not to hold the truth in unrighteousness. If we are in the truth, we should walk in the truth, or live in act agreeably to it, and always remember that he that does righteousness is righteous, and that he does not do righteousness is not of God. ( 1 John 3:7-10.)

Religion is, in substance, our imitation of God in His moral perfections of goodness, Righteousness, and Truth.

And this is that in which our present and future happiness consists. We are happy the same way as God Himself is happy.

Righteousness always supposes a principle of true piety, and inward reverence and regard to the Deity, a thorough subjection of the soul to the Father of our spirits, and an unreserved obedience to those eternal laws of Truth and Righteousness which are founded in the unalterable Reason, fitness, and relation of things.

Our righteousness, as human beings, is our conformity to the law of Reason, or to the law of our creation, which is the law of God. 

This constitute that religion which is the perfection of humanity, and it is what every person's reason tells them that they should aspire after.

Since Christianity is the perfection of all religion, tending more than any other to the refinement and perfection of the moral life, we all now enjoy the light and benefit of divine revelation.

Our righteousness as Christians is a hearty and unfeigned compliance with the declarations of the Gospel, or with that more pure and perfect institution of religion which God has given us - our Master, Jesus.

Since this is that unalterable and perfect rule which God has now given us whereby to regulate our hearts and lives, it will be, for us, the final test of eveyone's religious character and conduct.

(Abridged and adapted from “The Distinctive Character And Honour Of The Righteous Man Considered,” by Rev. Paul Cardale, 1761)

Sunday, February 28, 2021

God Calls Us To A Holy Salvation! #JesusFollowers

“Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do, that I might have eternal life?” (Mark 19:16)

Suppose I was speaking with an immoral person who had heard of Jesus, but believed him to be an impostor. I might attempt to convert him by rational argument and by Jesus’ Gospel.

I first convince him of the existence of one infinite Creator, Governor and Father. You perceive that he would then be saved from his ignorance concerning the nature of the Supreme Being.

I next convince him that Jesus of Nazareth is the divinely commissioned Savior of the world. You perceive that he would then be saved from unbelief.

I further convince him that if he would be a true Christian, he must obey the instructions, imitate the example and soak in the spirit of the great author of our faith.

When his actions give evidence of a reformation of heart and life, we can perceive that he would be saved from his iniquities; as well as blessed with a righteous and holy character.

So, Christian salvation consists in deliverance from ignorance, and sin, and in the possession of Christian knowledge, virtue and piety. This salvation takes place whenever a person becomes a practical Christian. And Divine pardon can be obtained only by forming a Christian character.

Jesus became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him. We can obtain the divine pardon only by forming a Christian character.

Reason teaches us that our heavenly Father is our supreme Savior, the original author of our lives, and all things in existence. And for what purpose has he given us being? Solely for our own good; because He is infinite love.

If love prompted Him to create intelligent offspring, that same affection must dispose him to regard them with tenderness, and to be their eternal Benefactor.

Our heavenly Father has created and commissioned Jesus of Nazareth to be the Savior of all who would come unto him, and qualified him for the successful execution of his divine office. These truths are plainly taught in various parts of the Scriptures.

The whole process of salvation is perfectly plain and intelligible. Jesus exerts no mysterious influence over us.

So far as he induces us to become good, he is instrumental in our salvation, and no farther; for we are not saved, and we shall never be saved, unless we become holy.

This is expressly declared by our Savior himself. ”Not every one that says unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.”

Those who continue in disobedience are not partakers of his salvation.

Our heavenly Father saves us by leading his intelligent children to consideration and obedience. This is clearly taught in various passages of scripture.

Our interest, our duty, and our happiness coincide. Let no one then be so simple as to think he shall be always sure of happiness, without personal holiness.

For unless he faithfully improves all his talents, they will hereafter swell the fountain of his misery.

Unless your talents serve to wean your affections away from earthly vanities; unless they raise your thoughts to the unseen realities of eternity; unless they lead you to self-scrutiny, self-discipline and self-cultivation, they cannot promote your Christian salvation. For this instrument will save you only so far as it makes you holy, and no farther.

The great majority in civilized lands profess to believe in the Christian religion. A part only are influenced by their faith to conform to its requisitions.

The remainder act in direct opposition to their profession, because their belief is merely speculative.

The substance of the whole matter, therefore, is this. Only so far as a person obeys Jesus, only so far will he bring forth good works; and only so far as he exhibits those good works, only so far is a person justified by all its exercises.

So, speedily reform whatever you discover amiss in your heart or lives. Quickly supply whatever you find defective in your faith or practice. Confirm and strengthen whatever you possess according to truth and godliness.

And never imagine that you have arrived at perfection; but forgetting your past mistakes, pressing forward most zealously to higher and still higher degrees of Christian knowledge and holiness.

Your Father remembers that you are dust, and he does not require impossibilities of his frail children.

Place the perfect example of your divine Master ever before you.

He came not to make us happy in our iniquities. This he could not do. This God himself will not do. He must first aid us in becoming good, before we can possibly be happy.

(Abridged and adapted from an 1831 sermon by Rev. Bernard Whitman)

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Look To #Jesus For True Christianity! #JesusFollowers

Looking at the Words of Jesus, at real Christianity, the pure religion he taught, nothing appears more fixed and certain. Its influence widens as light extends; it deepens as the nations grow more wise.

But, looking at the history of what men call Christianity, nothing seems more uncertain and perishable.

While true religion is always the same thing, in each century and every land, in each man that feels it, the Christianity of the Pulpit, which is the religion taught, which is the religion that is accepted and lived out; has never been the same thing in any two centuries or lands, except only in name.

If, as some early Christians began to do, you take a heathen view, and make him a God, the Son of God in a peculiar and exclusive sense — much of the significance of his character is gone. His virtue then has no merit; his love no feeling; his cross no burden; his agony no pain. His death is an illusion; his resurrection but a show.

For if he were not a man, but a god, what are all these thing; what his words, his life, his excellence of achievement?

Compare the simplicity of Christianity, as Jesus sets it forth on the Sermon on the Mount, with what is sometimes taught and accepted in that honored name, and what a difference!

One is of God; one is of man. There is something in Christianity which sects have not reached; something that will not be won, we fear, by theological battles, or the quarrels of pious men.

The Christianity of the pulpit, of society, is ephemeral – a transitory fly. It will pass away and be forgotten.

Some new form will take its place, suited to the changing times. Each will represent something of the truth; but not one the whole.

That pure ideal Religion which Jesus saw on the Mount, and lived out in the lowly life of a Galilean peasant; which transforms his cross into an emblem of all that is holiest on earth; which makes sacred the ground he trod, and is dearest to the best of us, most true to what is truest in us, cannot pass away.

Exalt him as much as we may, we shall yet perhaps come short of the mark. But still was he not our brother; the son of man, as we are; the son of God, like ourselves? His excellence - was it not human excellence? His wisdom, love, piety - sweet and celestial as they were - are they not what we also may attain? In him, as in a mirror, we may see the image of God, and go on from glory to glory, till we are changed into the same image, led by the spirit that enlightens the humble. Viewed in this way, how beautiful is the life of Jesus!-

(Adapted From "A Discourse on the Transient and Permanent in Christianity," by Theodore Parker, May 19, 1841)

Sunday, February 14, 2021

What Is Love? #JesusFollowers

"Love" is one of those words in the English language that can leave us easily confused. 

Love can mean a strong attachment to pancakes or pickles, a deep emotional attachment to another person like a spouse, parent or neighbor, it can express a deep “fan” relationship with a movie franchise like Star Wars, or it can mean lust for a drug, a person, an object, or a stranger.

This imprecise definition didn’t exist in the oldest manuscripts of the words of our Master, Jesus, which were preserved in Greek. 

Love most often was conveyed with a word, agape [agapaō] which means a pure, all-consuming love. 

It’s this word that is used when Jesus calls us to, "Love Yahweh, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." And, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

It was not limited to our friends, or to those who love us, because it’s agape that is used when Jesus says “Love your enemies.” (Matt. 5:43)

The Fourth Gospel records, “For God so loved the world,” using that same word, agape, showing that God has deep, abiding and unlimited love for us. God chose and sent out Jesus as our special example to us, so that we might not live in darkness, but in light.

But it’s not just God than can show this love, however. We are called by Jesus to “Love one another; JUST as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)

The fact that we are to love “JUST AS I HAVE LOVED YOU” is a powerful calling to us. We are told by Jesus that we may indeed love just as he loved; act just as he acted; serve just as he served. Our love is to have no bounds, just as Jesus’ love had no bounds.

This is all important to understand, given the many misconceptions about “love” – even among those who attend the churches of Christendom today – and even among those who do not.

"Love" having so many meanings, many today believe the love we are called to show is the shallow love we have for food, movies and other things with which we have a strong emotional attachment.

It would be a serious mistake, however, to assume that ALL we must do is express a light, shallow Love towards God and towards others. "Love is All You Need" is the name of an awesome Beatles song about emotional attachment between two lovers, not the imperative that Jesus calls us to embrace.

The Power of Love, the kind of Love that God shows us through His son, Jesus, is the kind of Love that is deep, unattached to emotions. It’s not an erotic love, or a shallow love, or a "love" that has no meaning or caring behind it, but it is instead the deepest and most pure Love there is. 

This kind of Love must be the cornerstone of our faith. Love of God and love of our neighbors is what Jesus calls us to actively show in our daily lives.

The faith that Jesus teaches challenges us to love God so much that we love others just as God does, and show it by doing Good Works in the service of others.

And we are called to love and obey God and serve others, using Jesus' perfect example as our guide, and then we are to accept that GOD ALONE is our judge, and our God is a God of mercy, if we ask for it.

"Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me." (John 14:21)

"If you keep my commandments," says Jesus, "you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love." (John 15:10)

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Are You Denying Jesus? #JesusFollowers

“Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 10:33)

Is there a sincere Christian on earth who would knowingly deny Jesus? No. I cannot think there is a true believer, in any denomination, who would designedly be guilty of such exceeding sinfulness. 

But, my friends, are we in no danger of ignorantly denying him? 

I fear we are. When I observe the weakness, and ignorance of humanity, when I witness the mighty influence of prejudice, and when the powerful effects of my early instruction, and early impressions, and early associations, I am compelled to fear we are in great danger of unintentionally denying Jesus.

You may deny Jesus in two different ways, either in word, or in deed. If you contradict his words and teachings, you deny him in word. If you disobey his commands, you deny him in deed.

An instance of the first kind of denial is found in the tenth chapter of John's Gospel. The Jews accused Jesus of making himself God! In so doing they contradicted his declarations; and consequently, denied the Lord Jesus.

He instantly denied the truth of their charge, in his usual mild and reasoning manner. 

“Is it not written in your law, I said ‘you are Gods?’ If he called them gods to whom the word of God came - and Scripture cannot be broken - do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” (John 10:22-39.)

In refuting their accusation, notice three things. First, he denied calling himself God. He had merely called God his Father, and asserted that his Father was greater than all, and then added, “I and my Father are one,” not one person, not one God, for he had spoken of receiving sheep from the Father, and not one equal being with God. 

Secondly, he denied being God. He asserted that he was sanctified and sent into the world by the Father.

If he was dependent on his Father for his commission and ability to execute it, he could not be the almighty God. 

And thirdly, he refuted the charge of blasphemy, from the scriptures. He had called himself the son of God. The scriptures had called men gods, merely because they received the word of God. 

If you say Jesus is God, you contradict his own declarations. Speaking of God, he said, “The Lord our God is one Lord.” Did he declare himself to be this one Lord? 

He said, “Why do you call me good; there is no one good but one, that is God.” He clearly separates himself from God. 

Speaking of his knowledge, he said, “Of that day, and that hour, knows no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the son, but the Father.” 

Do you believe his own words?

God cannot be tempted; but Jesus was tempted in all points as we are. God cannot receive assistance from any being; but an angel strengthened Jesus. God cannot suffer pain; but Jesus suffered exceeding agony. God cannot be sent by anyone; but Jesus was sent by the Father. God cannot be anointed; but Jesus was anointed by God. 

God cannot be murdered; but Jesus was crucified and slain by wicked hands. God cannot ascend to any place; but Jesus ascended to his God and Father. 

God cannot sit at his own right hand; but Jesus is seated at the right hand of God. God cannot pray to anyone; but Jesus prayed to his Father. 

Jesus said, “My Father is greater than I,” I dare not accuse him of uttering falsehood. For I would not knowingly deny the Jesus.

If you worship Jesus as God, you disobey his own instruction. 

His disciples wished to know the precise time when Jerusalem would be destroyed. He said, “Of that day, and that hour, knows no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the son, but the FATHER.” 

He either did know the day and hour when this event would take place, or he did not. Was he the all-knowing God?

You can place no dependence on his declarations. But if I cannot believe every word Jesus uttered, he is no Savior for me. 

I believe he had but one nature. And believing this, I receive his instructions as true.

My Friends, on this infinitely important subject, are you disposed to receive the plain, current, unembarrassed doctrine of Jesus’ revelation? 

Will you compare passage with passage, and exercise your common sense in their interpretation, to obtain their true meaning? You have your choice.

But remember, my friends, you are to be judged by a plain rule of Jesus: “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day,” 

Yes, you are to be judged by the very words Jesus has spoken, and which are recorded in the Gospels. 

Could you produce one passage in which he commanded anyone to worship him as God? 

At that solemn tribunal, it will be of no use to say that you were otherwise taught by your parents, your instructors, your creeds, your ministers. But not to any of these but to God alone are you answerable. 

Remember the words of Jesus. “Whosoever shall be ashamed of my words, of him also shall the son of man be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father.” (John 7:50, Mark 8:38.)

(Adapted and condensed from an 1827 sermon by Rev. Bernard Whitman)

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Don't Believe In A Lesser Gospel! #JesusFollowers

Are we reaching our full potential as human beings? Most of us would say we definitely aren’t.

And that's even before the question is clarified so that it's clear that the question here doesn't refer to our potential financial situation, or our potential in our working lives, nor our full potential physically.

No, it refers to our full spiritual potential as human beings. And of course, our answer is still probably, no.

Jesus, the man whom God anointed at baptism as his only son and our example in all things, believed that we COULD reach our full human potential. And he demonstrated it with his life.

In fact, Jesus spoke often about our ability and our ne
ed to do Good in serving others, and even claimed that our perfection was possible.

And given the clarifications we've already mentioned, you can guess that this perfection doesn't deal with our hair, our job situation, or the amount of money in our bank accounts.

And of course human potential here does not refer to our physical abilities to compete in races on the track, or even earn high scores on exams.

No, this “perfection” meant moral completeness. And all throughout his ministry, Jesus specifically addressed our need to become morally and spiritually perfect, just as God is perfect.

And he made it abundantly clear to his disciples, and through his eternally living words, to us, that we have the awesome responsibility to follow in his footsteps – the footsteps of someone who pleased his Creator in all things.

The Bible teaches that we are created in the very image of God. We need to take that seriously, not lightly. Because God calls us to be more than just the dust in the ground from which we sprang.

Even though we do remain flawed beings, and make bad choices at times, those bad choices are not to be confused with our human Nature. God tells us what our Nature is, and Jesus through his perfect life shows us what a perfect life is supposed to look like, and what it CAN look like.

And what does this perfect (complete) life look like? What is God's will for our lives? We don't need to guess. Jesus told us explicitly with his words, and then showed us with his life:

We are to be holy as God is holy. We are to be perfect, as God is perfect. We are to be merciful, just as God is merciful. (Lev. 11:44; Matt. 5:48; Luke 6:36)

We are to deny ourselves, and to serve others before ourselves. We are to go the extra mile in that service, and give the shirts off our backs, if necessary. Not only clothe the naked, but comfort the afflicted, visit the sick and the prisoner, and help the stranger on the side of the road we don't know. (Matt 5-7, 25)

These are tall orders. But they are our marching orders, if we want to claim we are following Jesus as our Master.

And we need to understand up front what kind of marching orders are.

Jesus repeatedly said we are to obey his teachings, if we claim to love him. They are not something we can dispense with because they're inconvenient or seem hard. They must be central to our faith, daily.

Jesus said "follow me," not "follow the idea of me," and certainly not "follow what people say or write about me." And by following, Jesus did not mean for his disciples to simply walk behind him, but to "walk" in every sense of that word - to follow his example and walk just as he walked in his life.

If we are seeking to anything less than that, or are listening to those proclaiming a lesser walk of faith, then we are doing less then Jesus calls us to do.

Why? Because he called us to do as he did, and everything Jesus did completely pleased our Creator. Therefore, if we wish to please our creator, we will do as Jesus did, to the best of our abilities.

Why would anyone today listen to anyone who said that we are to do less, or be less, than Jesus calls us to do, and become? Why would we listen to anyone saying that we are not capable of doing what Jesus calls us to do?

To do less is to be less than God wants us to be. That means: less holy, less human, and less complete. God wants us to be fully holy, to be fully human, and to be fully perfect and complete.
To do that means to walk as Jesus walked. And to walk that way means to seek diligently to follow his teachings.

If we doubt that we can do all that Jesus says God wants us to do, and all Jesus CALLS us to do, then we need to stop pretending that we are following Jesus or the challenging Gospel that he preached. We would have, in that case, accepted some lesser gospel.

But as creatures created in the image of the creator of the universe, this lesser, easier gospel is not worthy of us.

Only by humbly seeking to follow in his footsteps, and by seeking forgiveness from our merciful God when we fail to live up to those high standards, can we be truly counted as followers of Jesus and of the Gospel he, himself preached.

Jesus Followers simply are those who read and seek to understand and obey only the teachings of Jesus as a guide to how we should live our lives.

Obeying his teachings, and going out into the world finding others to obey them, as well, is literally the Great Commission he gave his disciples. (Matt 28:20)

Those words and teachings, and no others added to them, are what Jesus says leads directly to our Creator and His perfect will for us. (John 14:6)

With this knowledge now clearly before us, let us rededicate ourselves to truly following Jesus, and no other man. Through him, we will seek to reach our full human potential as children of our Creator.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Moving Mountains and Doing Good Works #JesusFollowers

"For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible to you.” - Matthew 17:20

A faith that can move mountains is a faith that believes human beings are the creation of One God, and that this Creator gave us unlimited potential to do Good.

If this isn’t the message of your church, you’re in a false religion that is opposed to the teachings of Jesus.

In this verse, and others, Jesus wasn’t teaching magic tricks to the crowds following him around in ancient Judea. He was teaching something about faith, and hope, and our ability to do Good.

He taught an active, bold, and courageous faith that tells us that we are not only capable of ALL the great compassion, love, and goodness he was exemplifying, but that THIS WAS OUR CREATOR’S PLAN for us, all along.

We are fulfilled and perfected by personally doing the holy deeds that bring in God’s Kingdom here on Earth. Our actions, when we do Good, are the actions of Godliness and holiness.

We become Good only by doing Goodness. Human beings reflect the holiness of our Creator by doing the holiness He knows we are capable of doing.

Jesus says, “Love your enemies and do Good to them.” (Luke 6:35) “Do Good to those who hate you,” (Luke 6:27) “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your Good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)

While we are cautioned not to do Good deeds simply to be seen by others and receive praise from them (Matt. 6:1) this are nonetheless a teaching of Jesus we cannot ignore, or pretend we are unable to do.

He said, “Truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing and they will do even greater things.” (John 14:12)

Entering the Narrow Gate, as Jesus instructs us to do, means this path of doing Good (Doing Righteousness) isn’t the popular path. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” (Matt. 5:10) Because “Small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt. 6:14.)

Jesus commissions us, his followers, to do Good in the world. We are to deny ourselves and pick up our crosses EVERY DAY (Luke 9:23) doing the work among our neighbors that will spread Goodness and help the suffering throughout the earth.

We have this as a mission if we take up his call. And he made this call abundantly clear. We are to:

1) Love God and our neighbors with every fiber of our being (Mark 12:30-31)

2) Make disciples of all nations who will obey his teachings. (Matt. 28:19-20, John 7:26, John 8:31) and

3) Do acts of compassion for others: Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting and comfort the sick and those in prison. (Matt. 25:36)

That’s it, in a nutshell. Anything added to this, or made less than this, is an invention of men, and can easily be dismissed and ignored.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Christianity As Jesus Taught It #JesusFollowers

Jesus teaching

“Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." - John 6:38.

Who will show us any good? Where are we to look for the clearest, truest setting forth of his religion? 

There is such a variety of Churches, there are such differences of form and of creed, there is such a confusion of ecclesiastical tongues, and so many of them asserting that theirs is the only faith by which anyone can be saved.

And meanwhile, some think it doubtful if any faith can stand. Where shall we find some real light - some solid ground to rest upon?

Am I mistaken in saying that this is a craving widely felt at the present time?

The heart of society just now is in a curiously puzzled and perplexed condition. It is not satisfied. People have the answers of their various Churches. 

These tell them in creed and catechism, in article and confession, what it is that man must believe, and which shall be "saving faith” to him. 

And all the points are well backed up by “proof texts,” which sound clear and unmistakable; yet, when all is said, people are not satisfied.

It may not be that they have come to actually disbelieve these doctrines, but they do not feel that they go to the root of the matter.

Now I want to set before you what I believe to be the true way out of these doubts, the true way to this broader, simpler, more practical religion.

That way, I believe to be, to look simply to Christianity as Christ Jesus preached it; to go back, as near as we can, through the narratives of the Gospels, to Jesus as he went about among the people, himself preaching his own “good tidings" - his own religion. 

See what he himself said. how he answered people's questions; what he urged them to believe or to do, his beautiful, deep sayings. 

These an old saying: “The Bible, and the Bible only."  Well, I want to bring that idea to a brighter point still: “Jesus, and Jesus only, the special teacher for Christians.”

There is not a church throughout the world that does not claim Jesus as its teacher. The real difficulty occurs when we come to the practical application of it. 

Those four Gospel accounts of how he himself preached are sufficient in giving us Christianity as Jesus himself preached it.

A great deal of what passes for Christianity in the churches of the day will fail when tried by this test.

Always Jesus represents God as only wanting our repentance, waiting to forgive. There is never a word about the necessity of the penalty being paid; never a hint as to there being any hindrance to God's free mercy, except the hindrance of a hardness of heart.

I want to set before you the simple Gospel which Jesus Christ went about trying to persuade people to receive - the Gospel of love and practical righteousness.

Surely the very heart of it all, that which was the central light, was his sense of the infinite tenderness of God, and of the blessedness of living in His love, as His trustful and faithful children. 

Just let us recall the manner of our Savior's ministry, how he went about, what he taught the people:

Blessings on the pure in heart, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, exhortations to a higher righteousness than that of the Law as set forth by the Scribes and Pharisees; teachings about brotherly love – “leave your gift before the altar, and go and make up with your brother;" not doing anything “to be seen by others;" about the quiet charity that should not let the left hand know what the right hand does; about patience, and kindness - enforced by reminding them of God's kindness to all of us.

And the passage, "Not everyone that says to me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven, but he that does the will of my Father in Heaven."

That sermon was what one may call the great proclamation of his ministry. Then, follow him in thought as he moves among the people, telling them of the priceless value of having the kingdom of God in their hearts. 

And always he turns around from these thoughts of the Heavenly Father's love, to appeals for our loving duty! God's part was free, unpurchased love; our part He says is practical righteousness.

Never from his teachings could that false idea of righteousness be learned, which places opinions above conduct.

And it was not his teachings alone. These teachings were uttered in something nobler than word. The teaching was done into life.

And the Life was more powerful than the word, and so it is not merely “Christianity as Jesus preached it,” but “as Jesus lived it,” that stands for us in the Gospels.

The more I look upon that life of such sublime strength, holy love, and deep, living wisdom, the more I think of what Christianity was as Jesus preached it, and the more I feel how poor our faith in Him has become.

Place first a faith in those grand, simple teachings of God's love and our duty, and hold them up before the world with all the power of your speech and of your life.

(Adapted from an 1875 sermon by Rev. Brooke Herford 1830-1903)

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Justin Bieber’s Lyrics And Modern Christianity #JesusFollowers

Let’s talk music. Specifically, Justin Bieber.

The undeniably talented pop superstar is popular, rich, and influential with his millions of fans.

He’s also lonely, according to a new song of his, titled simply, “Lonely.”

But before dealing with that, let’s get some background. In 2014, Justin was a mess: Heavy drinking, a scandal about some racist words he used as a youth, and an overall “bad boy” image from doing stupid things.

Enter Christianity. Specifically, the Australia-based Pentecostal mega-church Hillsong.

The church has branches throughout the world, including the US, and is known for its pastors in skinny jeans and “laid back” attitude, as well as its prosperity Gospel, which says Christians can get rich, and doing so is a sign of God’s approval.

In 2014, Bieber was baptized by Carl Lentz, pastor of Hillsong’s New York City branch, in an NBA basketball player’s bathtub (it was reportedly very large!)

How’s his new faith working out?

On the surface, he got his act together. He married another Hillsong member, Hailey Baldwin, in 2018, and, now 26, has stayed out of the headlines for the shenanigans he was known for as a youth. But his music has not made the same spiritual journey.

In 2015 (pre-baptism) he had released “No Sense,” in which he opines, “It don’t make no sense unless I’m doing it with you.”

Nothing’s changed. His early 2020 hit, “Yummy” was reportedly a song about his wife’s private parts. Nuff said there.

His catchy December, 2020 hit, “Holy,” is anything but. He sings, “I hear a lot about sinners. Don’t think that I’ll be a saint.” And, “The way you hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me, feels so holy, holy, holy, holy.”

In October, he had released the aforementioned “Lonely.” Many lyrics are clearly thoughtful, noting that he hopes “when I’m older, it’ll all calm down.” And he ruminates on how hard it is being a celebrity, as many other singers have done before.

But it’s hard to believe some lines were written and sung by a Christian.

“What if you had it all, but nobody to call?”  “But no one’s listening, and that’s just F****ing lonely.” “And everyone saw me sick, and it felt like no one gave a s**t.” His plaintive wail, “I’m  so lo-oooonely” is haunting, and very sad.

Nobody to call, no one listening? One wonders where his pastor was.

Lentz, his mentor/pastor, disappeared from Justin’ life. He was fired from Hillsong in November, partly due to infidelity accusations, and because he seemed obsessed with celebrities and designer clothing more than he was helping those church members in need of spiritual help, like Justin.

On Jan. 4, 2021, Justin took to Instagram to “debunk” rumors. He denied being a member of Hillsong (now) and claimed to be a member of Churchome, led by Pastor Judah Smith, who had introduced him to Lentz and had officiated his wedding.

He also said, “Church is not a place. We are the church. We don’t need a building to connect with God, God is with us wherever we are.” And in that, he’s correct.

Back to Lentz, he let Justin down. But not just him. His church let him down. And even deeper, so did Christian theology.

That’s because the root cause of moral rot in today’s Church is its theology. Pastors today blindly repeat: “You can’t EARN your salvation, it’s a FREE GIFT,” (“Instant Salvation”) and “Good works are FILTHY rags to God,” (“Unholy Religion”) and “we’re born sinners, we can’t help it.” (“Original Sin/Inherited Guilt Nature”)

Where does this false theology lead church members? They conclude that religion is cheap, and nothing matters.

This rotten theology creates a lazy faith that doesn’t lead to doing good and being Good. Both are seen as unnecessary, and in some churches, impossible, for human beings.

So, we see a baptized rock star carelessly using religious concepts as fodder for his sex-focused lyrics, then mocking the idea of “Being a saint.” Why? Because his false teachers themselves mock “morality” as irrelevant to salvation, and to God.

Knowing this background, can we blame Justin Bieber for moral laxness? No. We dare not throw stones at HIM. The blame lies with modern Christianity: a belief system that failed to give him the moral clarity to improve how he was influencing his millions of fans – and fails many millions of churchgoers.

Jesus’ teachings bring that moral clarity. And a “Christian” belief system based on ANYTHING OTHER than his teachings is a false religion.