Sunday, June 26, 2022

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, even if we wanted to.

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

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, who was 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, as well.

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 in Adam's story.

Adam’s own son, Cain, was told by God that he would be rewarded if he did what was right, and that he 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)

There is therefore no hint of a curse making us morally unable to do good in the Adam and Eve story.

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 forgiveness.

The Bible repeatedly tells 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 (the LORD) 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)

The clear lessons of the Bible teach that we may be broken right now, but we certainly weren’t “born that way,” and we should not 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 (a plan which is nothing more, or less, than following His path of Righteousness.)

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

Further, Jesus’ own life teaches us that we as human beings can thrive even when persecuted, although 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, admiring him, but to actively pursue Righteousness through doing Good, as he demonstrated for us.

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 19, 2022

What Does God Think We Can Do? #JesusFollowers


Just a few verses into the Hebrew Bible, in the book of Genesis, there is a well-known story that has valuable lessons that, if better known, could change the way we understand God, our human abilities, and our responsibilities as God’s children.

The story of Cain and Abel – well known as an allegorical tale of brotherly strife – begins with both brothers offering up a sacrifice to God. Abel offers up animals on an altar, while Cain offers fruits and vegetables. However…
"[Yahweh] didn’t respect Cain and his offering. So Cain was very angry, and the expression on his face fell. And Yahweh said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires you, but you must rule over it." (Gen. 4:5b-8)
The story goes on to tell how the angry, confused Cain sought out and murdered his brother Abel. God then finds Cain in hiding, and asks him where his brother was. Cain answered with that well-known line (as if he was innocent of the crime) "Am I my brother's keeper?" God then punishes Cain by marking him for all eternity.

So, what lessons does this story teach us, today, about human beings, and our abilities?

First, God laid out two paths of action to Cain, equally offering acceptance (to be “Lifted” in the Hebrew, meaning exalted) if he had chosen to do what was right.

God also told Cain he had the ability to RULE OVER or “master” sin, if he chose to do it.

God’s offer of acceptance to Cain, and the choice he was given, prove that he had the ability to do what is right – and so do we.

But this simple lesson has been invisible to many religious teachers, who have long denied that we as human beings have the ability to choose to do what is right.

Some – living hundreds of years after Jesus' ministry – taught that Cain’s father, Adam (the first human being, along with Eve, in the book of Genesis) sinned against God. This, they say, caused all of his descendants, including us, to be UNABLE TO AVOID SINNING.

They also taught that this inability was passed on to us through our ancestors when they had sex. This is the teaching of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and all modern Protestant and Catholic churches.

If this is true, then we are powerless to avoid sin – and powerless to do what God commands us to do.

But the actual words of this story blow apart these man-made theories.

Cain, the very child of Adam in this story, had the ability to NOT kill Abel, had he chosen that option. He was assured by God that he could CHOOSE to not sin, and in fact, said he MUST do so, to avoid punishment.

This story teaches us volumes about God’s nature, as well as human nature. God created us to obey His moral commandments. And because God is our Creator, He knows of what we are capable, and calls us to seek out His holiness and obey Him.

Rather than telling his disciples that we could do nothing EXCEPT sin, Jesus – the one whom God chose as our example and teacher and anointed as His spokesman – taught them, and through them, us, that we are to be "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48)

And the one who said he did all things that pleased God also said that we must follow him, doing all that he had done. (John 13:15; 14:12)

In saying this, Jesus echoed all the Hebrew prophets who had come before him - because he did not teach anything new about our ability to obey God that was not already known.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, we are assured that God's commandments are, "not too hard for you," and "The word is very near you. It 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)

The Psalmist writes: "Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges the earth." (Psalms 58:11)

“He has shown you, O man, what is good," writes Micah (6:8)

We are called upon to "Hate evil, and love good" says Amos (5:15)

"Choose this day whom you will serve," says Joshua (24:15)

"If you choose, you can keep the commandments; and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. Set before you are fire and water; to whatever you choose, stretch out your hand. Before everyone are life and death, whichever they choose will be given them." (Sirach 15:15-17)

Therefore, while sin may be waiting by the door for us, seeking to master us, we may indeed defeat – and master – sinful temptations. We HAVE THAT ABILITY, given to us by our Creator!

If we have damaged this ability because of our past behavior, God will grant us greater moral strength when we ask (Psalm 138:3; Prov. 2:6; James 1:5)

That we have this ability born within us is amazingly good news, because it shows that our Creator knows us, and still gives us the freedom to act and choose to obey Him freely!

Through the teachings of our Master, Jesus, we know that God is like a parent, Who allows His children to make mistakes, repent, and turn back to doing what is right and good.

We should thank God, our Creator, in Whose image we were created, for trusting us to make our own choices, and let's pledge to always take that awesome responsibility seriously in all that we do.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Jesus Shows Us Our Human Potential #JesusFollowers

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 5, 2022

Is Human Perfection Possible? [JesusFollowers]

"If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Matt. 19:16 NIV)

When the various appetites and passions that take place in man are constantly and uniformly directed to, and placed upon, their proper objects and when each and every one of these are kept in due bounds, one not indulged to the suppressing of another such a creature may be said to be perfect.

When the springs of action in us, namely selfishness and benevolence, hope and fear, and the like, are duly balanced, so as that one isn't greater than the others; and, when all these, together with the principle of activity or self-motion, are wholly subject to that principle of intelligence which is likewise a part of the human constitution, and which was intended to guide and direct the whole; then, according to his nature, this is called human perfection, not in distinction from, but considered to be the same as, Christian perfection.

The design of Christianity was to engage us to act the part, and to fill up the just and proper characters of human beings; and. not to enable us to resemble the characters of Angels. The design of Christianity was to make us good people; and not to make us more or better than human beings; and therefore, Christian perfection must be the same as human perfection.

Great riches are likely to engross the hearts and affections of those who possess them, and this shuts up their tenderness and compassion to the rest of their fellow-creatures. And although a person's benevolent actions ought to be proportioned to his wealth and riches, and to the needs and circumstances of his neighbors; Jesus knew, as we do, that great possessions and great benevolence seldom meet in the same person; and this justifies our Master's remark to the rich young man.

People like the young man he referred to are too ready to rest satisfied with not having done evil, whereas, our Master assures us, that as great a regard must be had for doing good, as for simply not doing evil, and that not actively doing good will render us just as blameworthy, and condemnable. "For I was hungry, and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you didn't take me in, naked and you didn't clothe me, in prison and you didn't visit me." (Matt. 25:41)

A benevolent disposition is the most noble and God-like part of our Nature, and, is therefore called the perfection of it. Jesus clearly states (Luke 6:36) "Be merciful (or kind, or benevolent) just as your Father is merciful." and as is recorded in Matthew, 5:48, is the same as to say, "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." When Jesus called us to be the kind of tree that bear good fruit (Matt. 7:17-18) he makes it clear that we have the ability to do good and become morally perfect: "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the Tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit." He notes that we must build treasure in Heaven and in our own hearts, so that "a good man brings good things out of the good stored within him." (Matt. 6:20; 12:35) 

Jesus requires a conformity of mind and life to that rule of action that is founded in the reason of things; and makes or declares that compliance to be the sole ground of divine acceptance, and the only way to life eternal.

And, to prove this proposition, the young man's question, that he put to Jesus, namely, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" And likewise our Mater's plain and full answer to this important question was, "If you would enter into life, keep the commandments." (Matt. 19:16-17)

So that to be perfect, according to the plain sense and meaning of our Master, Jesus, is to put on such a benevolent disposition, as will dispose and engage us to pursue the good and happiness of our neighbors as well as our own, and so far as we have power and opportunity for doing it; and if the circumstances of things require it, to part with our all, in this world, for their sakes. "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions an give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

 (Adapted from "An Enquiry Into the Ground and Foundation of Religion" by Thomas Chubb)

Sunday, May 29, 2022

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 22, 2022

Jesus’ High View of Human Nature. #JesusFollowers

Jesus uniformly expressed high views of human nature. It was over the perversion of its gifts, the abuse of its powers, that he mourned; but it seems never to have been his delight to magnify human guilt.


He found something in human nature, even in its humblest or its most distorted developments, worthy of love. You see him gathering around him little children, pressing them to his bosom, speaking kindly to them. He could not look upon the unwrinkled brow, the fair countenance of childhood, and contemplate the child as an object of God’s displeasure.

Look at his interactions with his immediate followers, how perseveringly obstinate was their hold upon long cherished prejudices! How slow were they to enter into his spirit, and to yield themselves to the full power of his instructions! Yet how patiently did he work with them! How kindly did he apologize for their lack of zeal in his cause! True it is, that he fearlessly rebuked sin; but in what spirit did he rebuke it? With the utmost compassion.

We look to the Reformers, who have appeared in different periods of the Christian church. We see in many of them high powers, determined hearts, and persevering efforts, qualities, which claim for them great respect. We see none, however, unbiased by local interests and prejudices.

Jesus stands at an immeasurable distance from them all. W see none, who are actuated by a generous, unmingled love, like that which Jesus manifested.

By the honest friends of Christianity, many devices have been invented and practiced to give power and interest to its instructions. The terrors of the Lord have been proclaimed, in the language of power acting for destruction. The passion of fear has been used without restraint, and all the passions associated with it have been addressed.

The power of party has been tried, and so has that of pomp, of show and of boasting, of forms and ceremonies, of fasts and prayers. But has the power of love been uniformly, and extensively tried?

Has the true spirit of Jesus ever yet been fully exhibited, either by his ministers or his church? I fear that it has not; and that even some good men are most woefully deceived as to the tendency of their own influence.

Here I see, what the spirit of Christ is, what the fruits of his influence are; and I utter in sorrow the deep conviction of my soul that the spirit of pure love, as it appeared in the teachings of Jesus, is not found extensively abroad for the reformation of the world.

Without this spirit, zeal may work with all the power of passion, sect after sect may put forth its rival claims, and missionaries may travel the globe; but the world will continue to writhe under the tortures of sin, and souls will continue to perish.

(Adapted from a Christmas Sermon by Rev. Nathan Parker, 1831)

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Are We Born Corrupt And "Evil"? #JesusFollowers


We are by nature, when we are born into the world (since we come from the hands of the Creator) innocent and pure, and free from all moral corruption. 
We are also destitute of all positive holiness; and, until we have, by the exercise of his faculties, actually formed a character either good or bad, an object of the divine complacency and favor.

The complacency and favor of the Creator are expressed in all the kind provisions that God made of things given for our improvement and happiness. We are by nature no more inclined or disposed to vice than to virtue, and are equally capable of either, in the ordinary use of our faculties, and with the common assistance afforded us. We derive from our ancestors a frail and mortal nature; and are made with appetites which fit us for the condition of being in which God has placed us.

We have passions implanted in us [at birth] which are of great importance in the conduct of life, but which are equally capable of impelling us into a wrong or a right course. We have natural affections, all of them originally good, but liable by a wrong direction to be the occasion of error and sin.

We have reason and conscience to direct the conduct of life, and enable us to choose aright, which reason may yet be neglected, or perverted, and conscience misguided. The whole of these together make up what constitutes our trial and probation. They make us accountable beings, able to make a right or wrong choice, being equally capable of either and as free to the one as to the other.

But what of "human depravity?" The question is not whether there is a great deal of wickedness in the world, but what is the source of that wickedness; not whether mankind are very corrupt, but how they become so; whether it is a character born with them, or acquired; whether it is what God made them, or what they have made themselves.

It is easy to bring together into one picture, and place in a strong light, with exaggerated features, all the bad passions in their uncontrolled and unqualified state, all the atrocious crimes that have been committed, all the bad dispositions that have been indulged; but the picture, though it contain nothing, but what is found in us, will be far, very far, from being a just picture of human nature.

Let all that is virtuous, and kind, and amiable, and good, be brought into the picture, and presented also in their full proportions, and the former will be found to constitute a far less part of it, than we were ready to imagine.

Innocence, and simplicity, and purity are the characteristics of early life. Truth is natural; falsehood is artificial. Veracity, kindness, good will flow from the natural feelings. Duplicity, and all the cold, and selfish, and calculating manners of society are the fruit of education, and interaction with the world. We have marks enough of a feeble, helpless nature, calling for assistance, support, kindness; but we see no proofs of depravity, of malignity, of inclination to evil in preference to good.

By our natural birth we only become human, accountable beings. We receive by natural birth only the human nature. We receive no moral character, but only the faculties and powers, in the exercise of which a moral character is to be formed. 

The formation of this character introduces us into a new state of being, and by whatever means, and at whatever time it takes place, we may be called "a new birth." And those who have thus acquired a moral character, and received the principles of a spiritual life, in addition to the natural human life, may be said to be born again.

We have certainly no cause to feel ourselves humbled under a sense of anything that we are by nature. We have occasion to be ashamed only of what we have become by practice. For the nature God has given us no sentiment but that of gratitude is due. Humility and self-condemnation should spring only from the consciousness of a course of life not answering to the powers, and faculties, and privileges of our nature.

Adapted from the writings of Dr. Henry Ware

Sunday, May 8, 2022

What Can We Change? #JesusFollowers

Nearly everyone has heard the “Serenity Prayer” which says: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The Stoics of ancient Greece also had a similar belief. Epictetus wrote, in his book the Enchiridion, "Of things, some are in our power, and others are not."

Jesus also addressed change. Some things, he says, cannot be changed, and some things aren’t worth worrying about.

"Do not be anxious about your life," he says, "what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?" (Matt. 6:25)

And in another place, he says, “Which of you, by being anxious, can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matt. 6:27)

While we can temporarily change the color of our hair, in fact, it cannot be changed but remains the same color in the long run. (Matt. 5:36)

In the Book of Proverbs, we learn that having anxiety can weigh us down (Prob. 12:25) and then there’s the oft-quoted Psalm 55, urging us to “Cast your burdens [cares] on Yahweh, and He will sustain you. (Psalm 55:22)

Jesus’ meaning, and the meaning of these other sayings of scripture, is that those things that we cannot change, we shouldn’t waste time worrying about.

And that’s very wise advice.

But while the Hebrew Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus are filled with admonitions to not waste time on things that aren’t changeable – nor worth changing – Jesus clearly calls us to actively change ourselves, to be “born again,” to repent of our previous bad actions, and also calls on us to ACTIVELY do Good Works that will build God’s Kingdom here on this earth. (Matt. 5:16, 6:10, 7:24; Luke 6:33-35)

He says we must “turn” (change) and become like little children, otherwise we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 18:3) That's work we're called to do.

He calls on us to feed others, and clothe and house them. He calls for active service in the name of God and the name of God’s Kingdom. (Matt. 25:35) That's work, too.

Today, his message is often missed, or entirely overlooked, because it’s hard. And we like things that are easy.

God is seen by many as a pill we can take to get easy, fast relief, to stop working. God becomes OUR servant, a “mother’s little helper” in whom we can rest. And finding spiritual rest in God is certainly part of what God is, and what God offers us, in our always-busy, hectic lives.

But God should never be seen as our servant, but as our Creator, the One Whom has sent us a perfect human template, and it is through that template that God calls us to a life of service and self-sacrifice.

Change can often be misunderstood. There’s certainly a time to “let go and let God” but neither God nor the one whom He chose, Jesus, calls on us to abdicate all our responsibilities to God or to others – to become lazy, complacent Christians.

Instead, God and His chosen son, Jesus, both call on us to be active participants in the creation of a new world.

There’s definitely a time for letting go, and giving things a chance to work themselves out. There’s also a time to jump in and do all that we can to make good things happen. Knowing when to do either is the result of wisdom, and if we lack wisdom to know the difference, we should pray that God will grant us more wisdom so we can discern it. (James 1:5)

But taking a default “let go” attitude means that we’ve given up on the life God has gifted to us. It means that we believe God exists only to do all of our work for us, all of the Good Works that He expects US to do, as we bring in God’s Kingdom on this earth.

We are to be Jesus’ active hands and feet, serving others as Jesus perfectly modeled for us to do. Jesus called us to ACT, and he constantly moved from place to place urging people to do all that he did, and to feed, clothe, house and comfort one another.

Giving up and hoping that God will do all this FOR us is not what we are called to do as Jesus Followers. While some things are clearly out of our control, much of what occurs in our lives can be changed by our actions, and must be.

Let us put aside needless and pointless anxiety about what we cannot change. But let us have the courage to get up each day and simply do the Good Works we were called by God through His chosen one, Jesus, to do.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

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, — 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)

Sunday, April 24, 2022

The True Purpose of Our Faith #JesusFollowers

There are certain speculative questions in Theology, upon which some decide very authoritatively, but of which I am accustomed to think but little, and to say nothing. There are, however, certain elementary principles of our faith, which have all the force of axioms. 

One of these principles is the absolute unity of the Great Supreme God. Another is, that He is our Father, and that He is perfect rectitude and perfect love. Another is, that I was made, and that all my fellow-beings wore made, for the knowledge, love, and enjoyment of God. 

Another is, that the supreme good of every human being is virtue, or a conformity to the will, and an assimilation to the character, of God. Another is, that I need, and that all need, light and aids in the discharge of duties. And another is. that my greatest benefactor is the benefactor of my soul, of my immortal nature. 

These at once are teachings of Christianity and principles by which it is to be interpreted. Under the influence of these principles, the Gospels, as often as I open them, becomes to me “glad tidings of great joy.”

I cannot think of Jesus but with the sentiment, 'Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.' 

My best evidence of the truth of our religion is in the fact that while it reveals to me, in myself, the capacities of a nature which was formed for the infinite, the immense and the everlasting, it, and it alone, goes to the height and the depth of the soul — it, and it alone, supplies the objects in which these wants ever found, or can find, satisfaction. 

My great inquiries are not, therefore, for the metaphysical nature of Christ or for any of the secret things of God. 

I would be one in spirit with Jesus, as He was one with the Father. This, I am sure, is the purpose of Christianity here, and will be the perfection of Heaven hereafter. 

With the will of God, as illustrated by the spirit of Jesus for my law, with redemption or deliverance from all sin, and progress in all virtue and holiness, as my end, I have no fear of any dangerous error in my faith. 

Our danger lies, not in our liability to erroneous conceptions of Christian doctrine, but in our defective sensibility to Christian obligations, and in our poor and low standard of Christian duty. 

Any lower aim than this is unworthy of us as his disciples; nor can I conceive that any faith, which does not minister to our advancement in the spirit and life of Jesus, can do anything to advance our qualification for the immortal blessedness of the Christian's Heaven.

Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Joseph Tuckerman, given Nov. 2, 1834

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Welcoming the Wrong Messiah - Both Then and Now #JesusFollowers

As Jesus entered Jerusalem on that last week of his life, his disciples were joined by the many who had heard and seen him preach in Galilee and those who heard about his fame far beyond that region. And they rushed to welcome him.

Surely they had heard of his teachings and his works, and believed him to be the Messiah. And so he was. Today, we understand his Messiahship clearly when he said he was sent by God, Whom he called The Father, to rescue us from our sins and call us to repent and turn back to God. 

He proclaimed God’s Kingdom, and said it was both within us and among the people in the form of himself. And he called disciples to follow him in creating this Kingdom and spreading it throughout first Judea and then the earth.

But that wasn’t what many had in mind that day as they welcomed him and proclaimed him “King.” They sought a military leader, someone who would lead a military revolt and overthrow the Romans, re-establishing a literal kingdom of Israel, and bringing justice by the sword, not by words of peace.

And within days, almost all of them would be going home disappointed – saddened that THIS Messiah would not be leading a military revolt. They had somehow drastically misread the clear words of Jesus, and their failure to listen would have grave consequences for them and their nation.

Jesus was always very clear about his mission. He was clear that this Kingdom was to be brought into this earthly reality by our deeds and actions by following God’s Moral Commandments, and that we would all be judged by those deeds to be deemed worthy to enter in to Eternal Life.

His kingdom was “not of this world” and that which belonged to Caesar should be given to Caesar. Every opportunity he was given to sow sedition against Rome, he instead spoke of peace and individual repentance from individual sinful behavior. That’s not the preaching of a revolutionary, conquering Messiah.

Perhaps that’s why the Gospels portray even the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate – who was otherwise known by historians as a brutal, ruthless ruler – as finding no sedition in him at all. Jesus is said to have answered Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, so I would not be delivered over to the Jewish leaders. But my kingdom is not from the world." This was a huge disappointment to those who sought a military revolt.

His entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, rather than on the massive white horse of a general, was also subtle hint about his true mission.

The key to understanding Jesus’ true mission (one of inaugurating a Heavenly Kingdom, not a military revolt) is that the religious leaders of the day hated him. They saw his teachings as a threat, and made numerous accusations against him, all of them false. They accused him of trying to end God’s Law (but he said he was upholding every line of it) and of trying to destroy the Sabbath observance (but he said he was upholding the true spirit of the Sabbath) and even trying to make himself equal with God (something he denied over and over again.)

And the day after his triumphal entry, he did something else that was unexpected: he entered the Temple, and there he loudly condemned those who were using it as a money-making venture, rather than a place of pure worship.

Today, Christendom – those who supposedly revere him and his teachings – continue to misunderstand him. They, like his contemporaries, believe him to be a conquering king who’s going to come back and smite all of his enemies – secular “Romans” – in a bloodbath.

Many arrogantly call themselves “children of the King” and believe that entitles them to riches in this earth, while Jesus taught we should never trust in riches, but instead store up riches in heaven by doing Good Works in this life (which today’s Christendom also condemns.)

Most are quick to worship and admire him, and make his death and return to God into a magical charm that absolves them of the hard work of living in Righteousness as Jesus commanded us to do, rather than obeying his words and honoring his teachings. 

And many make God’s house into a money-making venture, rather than a pure house of worship.

So as we greet Jesus as he enters Jerusalem, let’s renounce those misunderstandings and look back to Jesus and his actual teachings. Let’s stop looking for a conquering General who will make our lives easier by simply killing our enemies and giving us all of Rome’s riches so we can live easily and in physical comfort in this life.

Let’s instead remember that we are greeting God’s chosen Prophet – the one who brings us a Good and Beneficial Message (“Gospel”) that tells us if we turn from our sins, we may live with God eternally, and live the Righteous life God wants us to live here on earth. 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

What More Are We Doing Than Others? #JesusFollowers


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

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

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

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

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

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

He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” And as an incentive to a virtue so seemingly above humanity, he annexes this noble motive, “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 3, 2022

For What Cause Do We Advocate? #JesusFollowers


Now it has been nearly two thousand years since Jesus Christ, the Messiah of the Jewish nation, appeared in the world under the sanction of Divine Authority. 

The history of his life is made up of a uniform and unbroken series of virtuous exertions, “he went about doing good to the souls and bodies of men,” and it attracted the admiration of the world by the dignity of his temper and the charities of his heart. 

Piety to God and benevolence to man were the first principles of his conduct; these, if we may so speak, were the maxims upon which he set out, from which he never swerved, and which he exhibited in a most wonderful and extraordinary manner. 

He instructed his disciples in the spirit and design of his religion, and he fell a victim to the malice of the Judeans, and thus sealed his testimony by the shedding of his blood.

This was the faith of Jesus Christ: When asked by a scribe which was the first commandment, he singled out from the whole body of the Law the belief in one God; and what is more worthy of our attention, is this, that though he frequently and unreservedly censured the ceremonial corruptions of the Judeans’ religion, and condemned their traditions as derogatory from the designs of the Mosaic economy, yet on this one subject he bore testimony to their consistency and fidelity, and declared, that in this point of view, "he came not to destroy the law but to fulfil." 

In the course of his instructions he uniformly alluded to and taught the same doctrine, evidently to the exclusion of his own person, and that of the Holy Ghost: he denied the accusations of the Judeans when they represented him as assuming the title of God; he constantly referred his authority, his power, his plan of man's salvation, to God the Father; he prayed to Him, taught others to pray to Him, and Him alone; and ascended to heaven with an attestation of this divine truth on his lips, “I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

After his death, we find his disciples, who previous to this period, had betrayed no uncommon portion of human frailty, acting the part of the most determined and courageous men, opposing “through evil and good report,” the corruptions of Judaism; travelling into foreign countries with the glad tidings of salvation, and, in imitation of their Master, giving up their lives rather than sacrifice their integrity. 

For what is the cause we, today, are called to advocate? It is the cause of his religion; of simple, pure, and undefiled religion. The religion whose truths are founded on the existence of a Supreme Being, whose principles are corroborated by reason and revelation, and whose influences sympathize with the best affections and the purest feelings of the human soul — “that there is one God, and besides him no other"? - the Father, the Redeemer, the Judge of his creatures. 

These are the principles we profess, the cause we advocate; and with such professions, however inadequate to the end in view our exertions may appear, “He who does what seems him best in the kingdoms of men,” will approve our work and bless our labors. 

Ages rolled on and corruptions increased, centuries passed away, and the religion of Jesus spread, but it spread alas! in a spurious form, in a heathen clothes — it retained the name, but the spirit of its author had fled - it

reared its head' on thrones and in kingly palaces, but the poor sincere disciple who had formerly graced it by his virtues, was now transformed into the superstitious monk or the ignorant slave.

It is appropriate to bring the discussion to today, for one object of our faith is to restore to the religion of Jesus the same prominence in modern preaching that his teachings had in the preaching of the apostles. An erroneous theology has diminished the obvious and peculiar importance of his teachings.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Charles Valentine, 1822)

Sunday, March 27, 2022

A Faith in Jesus That Challenges Us to Be Better! #JesusFollowers


A few years ago, a young man named Jefferson Bethke posted a video on YouTube and later followed it up with a book, “Jesus [is greater than] Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough.” He was wrong on all counts.

The urge to simply have faith and then do nothing is very alluring and seductive. 

The urge to make excuses for our (assumed) inability to serve God as Jesus calls us to do is very strong, and it’s a very old message indeed. 

But it’s a call to half-serve God, and it’s a repudiation of the message God called and anointed Jesus to preach to all humanity.

If you are not actively seeking to walk as Jesus walked, you are not a follower of Jesus. You may be an admirer of Jesus, or a flatterer of Jesus, but not a follower. Jesus calls us to a life of struggle and service, not a life of shallow words and false phrases. He challenges us to be better than we are, not remain as we were before we met him.

"Come just as you are" to Jesus, who certainly accepted all who came to him during his ministry. But expect to change and be changed by his words, life and example. He wants to be followed, not just admired - he urges us to obey God, not to simply shower him with flattery.

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 seek to do Righteousness, to serve God not money, to lose ourselves and gain eternity.

Jesus' call for us to count the costs, then pick up a cross, go the extra mile, expand our 'talents' to serve others, and being the Good Samaritan cannot have meant for us to seek a life of leisure and ease. It's a call to action. If we say we love Jesus, but don't hear what he says, we've built our lives on shifting sands, not the Rock of his Words.

The Gospel that Jesus explicitly taught isn't a call to merely have belief in him, but it's a call to serve God, to follow Jesus' teachings, to love others just as we love ourselves. His Gospel calls us to serve and act, not sit and contemplate, nor to simply admire Jesus or even to worship him.

And since there is deep confusion among Christians today (sown by folks like Mr. Bethke) let there be no mistake: We are equipped from birth by God to begin the works Jesus calls us to accomplish. We have the ability to recognize Truth, the ability to know right from wrong, to do Good, and to serve others, as Jesus calls us to do. 

When we repent of our sins, and commit to stop sinning and serve God, then our Heavenly Father will equip us further with wisdom, with hope, with courage and with the strength to endure anything.

If we fail to grasp the simple, clear and profound message of Jesus, we will have fallen prey to the error of "easy believism"  - the wide road that leads to a failed and worthless faith, rather than a fulfilling one that actively fills the world with love, hope and light.

Anyone calling us to a faith of easy belief, of a faith without Works, of emotion without action, of a hope of Heavenly rewards without our hands engaged in helping others, is calling us to "another Gospel" that is false, and "another Christ" who is an imitation of the original Jesus.

The clear, challenging religion of Jesus that he first preached is far superior and far more profound and Godly than all the superstitions, mythologies, complexities and unimaginable nonsense men have attached to it ever since. It's time to return to Following Jesus and serving Jesus' God in spirit and in truth.

A faith that fails to challenge us to bold, radical service isn't worth having. A free gift is worthless if it's never open and used as it was designed. Jesus offers us such a faith, such a gift, if we would only open it and act upon it.

Let us, then, act.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

#Jesus' Words - Was He Just Mocking Us? #JesusFollowers

The book of Matthew (chapters 5 through 7) records Jesus’ words in a well-known series of chapters known as the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus went up on a small hill and began preaching, and what he said amazed the assembled crowd who heard it.

It amazes us, still.

Jesus’ teachings were both shocking and clear to those who heard them; startling statements meant to both spiritually awaken and challenge us to action.

He started by teaching about the character that God wishes us to have. In these “beatitudes,” Jesus assures us that God sends blessings of comfort, hope, healing, love, and strength, and that God expects us to share these blessings with others.

Jesus calls us to become both salt and light – spiritually enriching the world by being great moral examples to it - and says that we can do this by humbly performing righteous deeds. 

Our attitudes towards oaths, marriage and even our dealings with our enemies, he says, ought to be guided by extremely high ideals, not by shallow obedience alone.

But just because this challenging sermon IS so challenging, some scholars and churchmen throughout history have questioned whether it REALLY should be taken seriously by us at all.

For example, some have claimed that Jesus' teachings in this Sermon were not meant to be followed, but instead, his intention was to merely show us what we COULD NEVER accomplish, because all human beings are too corrupted to obey his teachings.

When Jesus said we should avoid even thinking of committing adultery - an act that is one of God's Ten Commandments to Moses - they claim that we couldn't possibly avoid thinking of such a thing. Therefore, they assert, Jesus was teaching that human beings couldn't possibly do what he was asking.

But to believe this would make Jesus a mean-spirited, cynical teacher. And indeed, most who believe this way don't see him as much of a teacher at all, but as someone who’s just mocking (or "convicting") us by spouting high ideals that are beyond our ability to obey.

This kind of teacher would seem mean and sadistic in a classroom, and insane standing on a hill claiming to be a religious Teacher from God.

A teacher who would mock us by teaching what we cannot follow (and then teach that we'd be punished by God if we didn't follow!) would be the worst of all teachers, and certainly not a prophet sent from God.

Of course, Jesus, our God-anointed Master, never said his teachings were impossible for human beings to follow, so we can easily reject this interpretation. Jesus said, "follow me," and "obey my teachings," and "let your light shine before others."

It's reasonable to take Jesus at his word, that he wants us to strive for even higher ideals than simply not cheating on one's spouse. He calls us to purify even our thoughts, not just our outward deeds.

This is consistent with his other teachings, in which he condemns the Judean religious teachers known as the Pharisees for having an outward appearance of goodness, like "a whitewashed tomb" he said, but inside, their minds were full of corruption and evil. 

This imagery clearly illustrates what he means by his teachings on the Mount, and elsewhere. 

We start the process of committing a sin by thinking about it, and dwelling upon it. Jesus knew this, and warned us to guard our thoughts just as we are to guard our actions.

"Out of the good treasure of our hearts," put there by our thoughts, come goodness in the form of good works that serve others and please God.

We can be assured that Jesus meant what he taught at face value, and when he says that we can become morally and spiritually complete, and that we can do all the he did during his ministry, we can rest easy knowing that he is not lying to us or mocking us.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

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 complexion 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 everyone'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, March 6, 2022

The Peacemakers of God #JesusFollowers

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt. 5:9)

In its literal meaning “Peacemakers” implies those lovers of God and humanity who utterly detest and abhor all strife and debate, all variance and contention: and accordingly labor with all their might, either to prevent the fire of hell from being kindled, or when it is kindled, from breaking out, or when it is broken out, from spreading any farther. They endeavor to calm the stormy spirits of humanity, to quiet their turbulent passions, to soften the minds of contending parties, and, if possible, reconcile them to each other.

They use all innocent arts, and employ all their strength, all the talents which God has given them, as well to preserve peace, where it is, and to restore it, where it does not. It is the joy of their heart to promote, to confirm, to increase mutual goodwill.

But in the full extent of the word, a peacemaker is one, who, as they have opportunity, "does good to all.” One who, being filled with the love of God and all humanity, cannot confine the expressions of it to their own family, or friends, or acquaintances, or party; or to those who share their own opinions; no, nor those who are partakers of like precious faith, but steps over all these narrow bounds, that they may do good to everyone; that they may, some way or other, manifest love to neighbors and strangers, friends and enemies.

They do good to them all, as they have opportunity, that is, on every possible occasion; "redeeming the time;" in order to buy up every opportunity, improve every hour, losing no moment where they may profit another.

Such a person does good, not of one particular kind, but good in general: in every possible way, employing all his talents of every kind, all their powers and faculties of body and soul; all their fortune, interest, and reputation; desiring only, that when they go before God, they may hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!"

One does Good to the uttermost of their power, even among the bodies of all people. They rejoice to “deal bread to the hungry," (Isaiah 58:7) and to "cover the naked with a garment.”

Is any a stranger? He takes him in, and relieves him according to his necessities. Are any sick or in prison? He visits them, and administers such help as they stand most in need of. And all this he does, not as unto man; but remembering him that hath said "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

How much more does this person rejoice, if they can do any good to the soul of another person!

it pleases Him who works all in all, to help people chiefly by other human beings; to convey His own power, and blessing, and love, through one person to another.

No one has need, on this account, to stand idle in their vineyard. The peacemakers cannot: they are even laboring in it, and, as an instrument in God's hand, preparing the ground for the Master's use, or sowing the seed of the kingdom, or watering what is already sown, if God may give the increase.

He is implored to exhort them to stir up the gifts of God which is in them.

(Adapted from a sermon, ‘Peacemakers of God,’ by John Wesley)