Sunday, April 25, 2021
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
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.
Sunday, April 11, 2021
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
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, — it 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)