Sunday, November 26, 2023

What Do We Owe God, And Others? #JesusFollowers


What do we owe to God? What do we owe to others? Many today might answer that we owe God and others nothing. Instead, they might say, we owe it to ourselves to focus on building up ourselves, alone.

This message is reinforced in almost every aspect of the society we live in. Advertising tells us that we owe it to ourselves to Grant our every desire, without hesitation.

We are told that we deserve every luxury and every Indulgence we can think of. It's very easy to fall into this trap, to believe that by gratifying ourselves that we will somehow be happy. 

Even some preachers teach that we owe it to ourselves to be rich - and that God endorses our quest for riches. They even say that our main religious goal in life is a Self-centered goal to "get saved," and save our souls for the next life. Once that's accomplished (and it's done quickly and easily, they claim - with just one prayer!) we may continue to focus on getting rich, and they tell us that we have no other obligations, to either God or other people.

And many church leaders rarely speak of OUR duties, but speak of, and sing about, holding GOD to HIS promises to us, which seems backwards. 

But as we have seen again and again, people who have lived in luxury beyond our wildest dreams have the same feelings of unhappiness, of being unfulfilled, of feeling alone and unloved we all have.

It's almost a stereotype and a truism that money and fame does not really bring happiness. And yet some still believe it, and chase that false hope.

If we follow Jesus, however, then the question of what we owe God and what we owe others is a simple one to answer. We owe everything to God and we owe complete and total service to others in the name of Jesus, whom we serve.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he said that we are to love our God with all our hearts all our minds all our strength and all our understanding, and our neighbor as ourselves. (Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:37)

Some say this is just a simplistic and easy summary of all the laws of God. And while it is a summary, for sure, it is not simplistic, but an incredible, powerful challenge that Jesus calls us to take up daily.

Because if we owe everything to God, our creator, we will live our lives full of gratitude to him for this creation and for our lives in it. If we owe everything to others, we will serve them and love them and cherish them. We will do everything to comfort them to ensure they have what they need to survive and thrive in this world.

When we understand that our lives here are meant to build up an Earthly kingdom of God, one that reflects the spiritual Perfection of our Creator, we will do all we can to alleviate others'
 suffering, comfort those in pain, and fill the needs of 

those who lack basic necessities. (Matt. 6:10)

This leaves little room for simply piling up riches. In fact, Jesus repeatedly calls on us to reject riches for riches' sake, saying (perhaps most clearly) that it's easier for a rich man to go through the eye of needle than to enter into the Kingdom. (Mark 10:25) 

Perhaps not as well kno, but just as important, is his warning that we ought to, "be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in an abundance of possessions." (Luke 12:15)

This is the selfless vision and the mission Jesus was sent out to preach. Jesus calls us to individually reach out to those among us and serve them. We literally owe it to others to do so. 

We as Jesus followers are called to deny ourselves, not focus on gratifying ourselves - to put others first, even ahead of our own enrichment. Jesus calls us to pick up the cross of service, the cross of love, the cross of self-sacrifice and love of our neighbor.

Jesus actually warns AGAINST seeking to save oneself. To do so means we will actually lose ourselves. (Matt. 10:38-39) Jesus seemed to know that we lose our souls when we focus inward, not outward.

And he specifically says that simple praise, crying out or reflexively using repetitive phrases or long prayers will not impress God, and will not save us, either. Only by doing what he commands us to do leads directly to Godliness, and pleases God. (Matt. 6:7; 7:21-23; Luke 6:46)

We should seek to live in a way that lets God's spirit flow through us in the same way in which it flowed through Jesus, our Master. 

When we do this, we are obeying our Master, whom God sent to us as an example and our teacher. We are then telling God that we are living lives of gratitude and service, just as his chosen son, Jesus, called us to do.

As his followers, we ought to do no less.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

The Glory of Jesus [Jesus Followers]

Christ Jesus’s mission was to save sinners, by engaging them to turn from the evil of their ways, and to subject their characters and actions to the law of love so, from hence, it will follow, that the only way in which he is, or can be glorified- by us, as our Savior, is, to let his Gospel have its due effect, and the purposes of his ministry be answered upon us and then we shall be the glory of Jesus. 

It is not the giving our assent to collection of speculative propositions nor strong confidence that Jesus will save us, nor the being united to a society called by his name (Christian) nor the constant attendance upon a set of ceremonial observances; nor the being noisy and troublesome for him, thereby disturbing the peace and quiet of the neighborhood in which we live, nor the drinking toasts to the Church's prosperity.

Though by the way,the term, Church, in modern language, generally signifies the Clergy, the authority and rights of the Church being no other than the authority and rights of the Clergy nor the afflicting and grieving our fellow-creatures, upon Jesus's account, either because they are not Christians at all, or because they do not come up to our standard of Christianity.

It is not these, nor the zeal and resentment that frequently spring from them, which Jesus is glorified by.  Some of these ministers are a shame and reproach to the Christian name, but: none of them minister to his praise.

Some of them reflect back great dishonor upon God and Jesus, with regard to their moral character, none of them add to their praise, byshowing them to be either wise or good. 

The true way to glorify Jesus is to reflect seriously upon those important truths, which he hhas proclaimed to the world, and to let those truths have their proper influence upon our minds and lives; by changing us from disagreeable and hurtful, to agreeable and useful members of society, and then we shall add much glory to Jesus, our Master. 

For as he undertook to save sinners in this way .so when his end is thus answered, then it is, that Jesus is glorified by us, 

Would we, then, answer the character of true Christians, and would we bring much glory to Jesus, our Master and Savior to let us reform our tempers and actions. Let us correct every disorderly, selfish, brutal, and inhuman appetite and passion and bring every thought into captivity to Christ's law of love. 

Let us put on such temper and behavior, as will render us a blessing to all around us by removing every uneasiness and every impediment to their happiness, and by contributing all we can to their comfort and felicity.

In a word, Let Jesus's Gospel have its due effect upon us, by making us good men, and then he will receive much glory from us we shall be The glory of Jesus, reflected upon the world.

Thus,. having gone through the several points which naturally offered themselves to be considered, from the words of the text; shall only make some short remarks from the whole, and so conclude. 

First, observe that though salvation is clearly described and evidently set forth by Jesus himself in his Gospel, yet nothing has been more generally mistaken. Christians have chosen any, yes, every other easy way to salvation, than the way which Jesus has shown and recommended to them. 

They would rather that Christ Jesus would save them, by acting mystically in them, or by doing good for them, or in any other way, than by his putting it upon themselves, to work out their own salvation. 

But, alas, none of those easy ways can possibly do it. For as their sin and folly, which is the ground of divine displeasure, is the product of their own will and agency, so nothing but repentance and reformation, which is the product of their own will and agency, also, can be the ground and reason of God's mercy; and lovingkindness to them.

Adapted from a tract, "The Glory of Christ," by Thomas Chubb, 1754.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

The Simple Gospel Of Jesus Doesn't Vilify Reason #JesusFollowers


God has never enjoined on human beings the duty of believing without evidence. He has never addressed us other than as rational beings, capable of discerning between truth and falsehood, and expected to do so on our own responsibility.

Revelation came not to supersede reason, or to set aside its deductions; but to enlighten its course, to expand its views, to enlarge its field of action, to dispel the earth-born mists that obscured its vision, to give it broader and more solid premises, on which to build its conclusions, and to prep its wings for a higher flight.

It never calls for the subjection of reason - the 'prostration' of the understanding, to its dictates. On the contrary, it is itself subjected to the decision of reason; and must abide the test. It must be received or rejected according to the dictates of our sober judgment on the evidence presented. And as with the evidence on which it rests, so with the doctrines it contains.

These too, are subjected to the test of reason. We believe them just in so far as we understand them; and no farther. The provinces of faith and reason are not distinct, the one beginning where the other ends. They cover the same ground. 

It seems to us a mere identical proposition to state that what is not understood, cannot be believed. In this case no object is presented to the mind for it to receive or reject. What is not understood is to me no revelation. If a man say that he believes what he does not pretend either to explain or comprehend, he deceives himself. His faith is merely verbal and illusory.

Doubtless there may be many truths both in nature and in scripture, of which we are ignorant. But to us, so long as we remain ignorant of them, they are nothing - they are to us as though they did not exist. 

We pretend not to comprehend the nature and perfections of the Divine Being, for example; but in so far as they are displayed, they are perfectly plain and intelligible - 'he that runs may read them.' And what is not displayed is no concern of ours.

My eye cannot penetrate the deep infinitude of the space that surrounds me; but within the verge of my own horizon I can see clearly, and move freely. Let it not be said that we exalt reason at the expense of revelation. We do but assign to each its appropriate sphere.

Reason, we must admit, was weak and inefficient by itself. And why? It lacked authority to still the clamor of the passions, that disturbed its operations. It lacked facts to render its conclusions certain.
Above all, it wanted sanctions to bind them on the conscience. All this revelation has supplied; and thus, it has completed the system of God's dispensations to humanity.

Those who vilify and degrade human reason; representing it as corrupt and debased; cautioning us continually against trusting to its guidance, and making it the test of a docile and humble spirit, and urging us to embrace doctrines from which reason recoils; do justice neither to reason, nor to scripture; neither to human beings, nor our Maker.

(Adapted from “Presumptive Arguments in Favor of Unitarianism" Jan. 1834, by Rev. Martin Luther Hurlbut)

Sunday, November 5, 2023

The Simplicity Of #Jesus' True Religion #JesusFollowers


The Sermon on the Mount is practical and simple, uninvolved in any abstruse, remote, or novel conceptions. It expresses no ideas that amaze and stupefy, or call for careful consideration on account of their novelty. 

It is a solemn, searching declaration of the universal religion of humanity: God is holy, wise, good; blessed are you if you are pure, meek, hungering for righteousness, and living from the heart pure, useful, holy lives. This is all the doctrine there is in it; not a word about the nature of the Godhead, the fall of man, the need of the atonement, the deity of Christ, the necessity of baptism and the saving sacrament of the communion.

And, indeed, the four Gospels are all simplicity itself, so far as they give us Christ's own words. Jesus spoke the language and the truth and the religion of a simple, artless, deep-centered representative of universal humanity — true always, everywhere, and for all. There is nothing to add, nothing to abate, nothing to excuse or to explain away in his teachings.

Because they give voice to what humanity knows to be deep and holy, they hold the allegiance of those in the twenty-first, as they will those of the thirty-first century. We cannot conceive of anything about our faith that is not already in the teachings, spirit, and example of Jesus.

Jesus has taught and illustrated our faith in ways a child can understand. But it is so plain that it looks severe; so simple that it looks cold and hard, like a marble statue. Its simplicity leaves us no loopholes of escape from its commandments. It cannot be, says the weaver of subtleties, that Jesus really expected us to be what he was and make his character our example. It cannot be that he really expected us to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves!

This is very simple, but it is so exacting and so hard! It is easier to believe a much more complex and inexplicable creed than to practice this very simple one. 

And so, not because it was unintelligible, but because it was too intelligible — not because it was uncertain, but because it was too plain — the subtlety of the Church and of the Christian world has upholstered and stuffed and cushioned and draped the simplicity of religion, until it has been made as great a mystery as an Egyptian mummy in its endless wrappings.

How much easier it is for the soul, reluctant for duty and self-sacrifice, to spend its time in high speculation about the nature of the Godhead than in plain obedience to an imperative voice of God enjoining us to shun evil and do right!

How much lighter work it is to bow when Jesus' name occurs in the creed, and to give him all the honors and worship of a God, than to keep his moral teachings and put on his meek and loving attitude! 

The simplicity of Jesus as it reveals itself in the Sermon on the Mount is often compared disparagingly with the voluminous faith of the Nicene Creed. Call that simplicity the Christian religion, which really adds nothing to the old Jewish and the older natural religion of love to God and love to man, except the example and spirit of Jesus! 

What, then, becomes of the Fall, and the Curse, and the Atonement, and the Sacraments, and the Trinity, and the Deity of Christ, and all the rest of the dogmatic paraphernalia of religion? They become invisible, like candles in the presence of the sun; they fall, like tents rich with hangings when the sky clears and spreads its own tabernacle around us.

It is the keeping of these great commandments that discloses their richness and fullness. They are simple and few. 

But live by them, and you will find that all the bodies of divinity in the world could not contain their lessons, or describe the glorious richness of their contents. If we are to have substitutes for holy living, nothing can be more effectual than hard metaphysical dogmas, or disputes about modes of worship.

To promote and exact real morality and true piety we can conceive nothing so well fitted as the simplicity of Jesus – the plain, unequivocal, uninvolved requirement of love to God, tested by love to men and active usefulness in life.

Do not allow yourselves to fall under the dominion of these sounding subtleties, these dark dogmas, these involved metaphysical puzzles that pass for religion and Christianity. They will unsettle your common sense, and befog your conscience.

It is not the unknown we can profit by, but the known. It is not the obscure, but the plain, that should have our attention.

It takes no learning, no scholarship, no formal logic, no fine-spun reasoning, to know God so far as we need to know Him, as a moral governor and Father of spirits; to know Jesus as a holy, gentle, and wise Master and guide of character; to know our duty well enough to live chastely, truthfully, honestly, with mercy and sympathy.

And this is all we need to know to fulfill all the obligations and to reach all the blessings of religion.

The common sense view of religion, as of life, is the true view. Eccentric or exceptional views are usually erroneous. Trust your capacity to know God and to understand Jesus by directing a plain common-sense intelligence towards them.

You have no more faith than you practice, no more religion than you live out, and no Savior unless he is found in you. This is simple, plain truth. Allow no spirit of subtlety to hide or deform it.

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

Sunday, October 29, 2023

The Scary, un-Reformed “Reformation” Sunday

Want to know what's REALLY scary this Halloween? This Sunday is also celebrated as Reformation Day in so-called "Reformed" Churches across the world.

Why scary? Why "so-called?" Because the Reformation of the 16th Century failed to go far enough to pull Christianity out of Ancient and Dark Age pagan thinking about God, and millions still believe in SCARY-wrong doctrines. And these doctrines negatively affect how hundreds of millions respond to the Gospel – amd fail to hear the real Gospel as Jesus preached it, because of the failure of these “reformers.”

Sadly, almost 100% of Christians are unaware they are even infected with these theological diseases.

Like the scary belief by "Reformer" Martin Luther that one can "sin boldly!" because we can be secure in a one-time-only salvation event without the requirement of obedience to secure that Salvation  - a scary-unbiblical lesson, one that modern evangelicals learned so well, they think Jesus taught it. Close, but they're only 1550 years off, and the author is Luther, not Jesus!

The Reformers also failed to go back far enough and cure "Saint" Augustine's SCARY-wicked, and horrifyingly false belief that God's commands can only be obeyed IF He gives us the ability to do so in advance ("Give [me] what you command, then [you can] command whatever you want.") Scary-unbiblical, that is, because if we have a duty to obey, and will be judged according to our ACTS, we must be free to act by a just God, Whom otherwise would be at fault for us NOT obeying.

And, good news! The Scriptures say that human beings are FREE and morally able to obey God, which contradicts another of Augustine’s Vampire-like doctrines (which cannot be killed, and was later re-VAMPED and given new strength by the demon-like, murdering Theocrat John Calvin) in which he states that man CANNOT do any Good, because flesh is evil, while spirit is always good. Leaving aside the fact that flesh can be used for good OR evil, and that we can have very damaged spirits - the Augustine-created Original Sin doctrine pretends we are Zombies (from birth!) who are unable to do good, and ALWAYS are compelled to do evil, despite our Master Jesus’ commands and clear trust in us that we CAN to do good - and should do so, continually.

We can't really blame Augustine, since he was carrying over his beliefs from Manichaeism, his former religion, which taught that there were two Gods, one good and one evil, and flesh (and sex) was totally evil. Then again, maybe that’s actually CAUSE to blame him, and mightily, for bringing paganism into Christianity.

And millions of “Protestants” today, thanks to the so-called Reformer Calvin, now believe in SCARY Calvinist doctrines like the theories that God has damned some souls to a scary eternal hell - BEFORE THEY WERE EVEN BORN, and that they cannot do anything to prevent such a fate, which is pre-determined, unattached to their actions! This makes a mockery of Jesus' call for ALL to Repent, Believe and obey his words and serve God with Works of Righteousness. (Dare I mention the other scary belief by ANOTHER person who often contradicted the Savior, by claiming such Good Works are "filthy rags" in the eyes of God, misusing King David’s beautiful poetry of the Psalms? No, not now, but that Antichrist's misperception needs urgent Reformation, one day, too.)

And we shall leave for another time the numerous other doctrines, created by wicked and misled men, such as the abomination of Tri-Theism of the Catholic Trinity the “Reformers” refused to dump, the human sacrifice and commercial transaction atonement of Jesus on the Cross, the “instant salvation demand” of Easy-Believism, and the horribly scary, Anti-Christ of the Prosperity Gospel.

So let us hope those who attend Reformation Sunday services this weekend in their not-yet-dePaganized “churches” do so knowing that their Reformation is incomplete. To say the least, Christendom needs to repent quickly of these spooky, innovative, man-made doctrines.

The clear message of Jesus, warped and de-formed by a millennium and a half by outrageous man-made Councils and Papal misrule, was left grossly un-reformed and even more deformed by these horribly flawed “Reformers,” who ought not to be celebrated.

So, let the Reformation begin anew and finally be completed, back to the PURE, clear and plain teachings of Christ Jesus, the man whom God anointed as His spokesman and prophet: That we must repent of our sinful shortcomings, turn back to God, serving God and our fellow human beings fully and completely, seeking God’s help to live as Jesus lived, yearning to achieve the goals he set for us, that we might live fully and act righteously in this life, building up God’s Kingdom on this earth and building up treasure in Heaven so we might reside with God there forever. Amen.

Scripture and other Citations:
“Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God's glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins?  Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.” (Letter 99, Paragraph 13, from Martin Luther's Saemmtliche Schriften)

"For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' But 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 (my emphasis)

“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” Deut. 30:19

“And if it seem evil unto you to serve GOD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve GOD.” Joshua 24:15

“GOD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.’” Gen. 4:6-7

“And ye shall observe to do all the statutes and judgments which I set before you this day.” Deut. 11:32

“My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” Prov. 1:10

“Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways” Prov. 3:31

“No one is established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will never be moved.” Prov. 12:3+

“God in the beginning created human beings and made them subject to their own free choice. 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 (also in the 1611 KJV. Luther dropped this book from the Bible, for obvious reasons.)

“But those who do what is true come to the light in order that the light may show that what they did was in obedience to God.” John 3:21

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” John 3:36

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15

“Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” John 14:24

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” James 3:13 (Luther sought to drop this book from the NT, for obvious reasons, but was stopped by others from doing so.)

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:2-3

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Are We "Fast-Forwarding" Through The Tough Parts Of The Gospel? #JesusFollowers


The Parable of the Wise Builder begins with Matt. 7:24: "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock."

But let us stop right there. We are often so quick to reach the end that we fail to see the beginning. Like scanning through ads when we record TV shows, we simply scan through the "unimportant" parts to get to the interesting parts of the story, like dramatic rain beating down on the two houses, and one house sliding into the sand with a great crash.

But let's slow down a bit. Jesus in this parable has already given us some great lessons in this first sentence. He says all who hear his words,  and DOES them are wise.

This tells us first that we may actually hear his words. This seems obvious, but to many in Christendom, his words are not that important, or are at best something that we can treat casually and overlook. 

Some claim that his words were meant to set up an impossible ideal - something that "convicts us" of being sinners by birth, rather than sinners by action, and therefore, we cannot *really* do what he asks.

But this of course cannot be found coming from the mouth of Jesus, who in direct opposition to this idea says that his words will not pass away (Mark 13:31; Matt. 24:35) And in numerous places, he makes clear that those who follow him are to obey his words.

To hear and obey, therefore, are things only free people can do. And human beings have the free will to hear the message that God sent through His Prophet and spokesman, Jesus, and to respond to it. Then, with the help of God's spirit and the example of Jesus' life, we are able to grow toward that Perfect Ideal.

At the beginning of this parable, we learn that those who do hear and obey are "wise." There are numerous examples of wise and righteous men in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus says he came not to call the Righteous to repentance, but Sinners. Both categories of people exist in our world, as they did in his.

So, we must not ever claim that we're genetically unable to obey and perform Righteous Works for God in the name of Jesus. To do so is to "fast forward" through the difficult work of following Jesus' words.

With this parable, as with many others, Jesus sets before us an ideal of God's Righteousness and tells us "Follow me" (Mark 2:14) and "Obey my teaching" (John 14:23.) God chose and sent Jesus as our perfect ideal, and tells us to follow Jesus - in whom He was "pleased" (Matt. 3:17.)

We are to put his words INTO PRACTICE (Matt. 7:26) so that we do not end up in the shifting sand of man-made beliefs that tell us that obedience to God is an impossible ideal.

This is the challenge of the Good and Beneficial Message ("Gospel") - that we take up the challenge and follow Jesus, doing whatever he said we should do. And in doing so, we build our houses on Rock by ACTING ON his words and putting them into practice (Matt. 7:26) so that we do not end up mired in the shifting sand of a man-made, dangerous belief that obedience to God is an impossible ideal, and can easily be ignored.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Why "I'm Only Human" Can't Be An Excuse For Sinning #JesusFollowers

How many times have we heard, after someone makes a mistake, or acts sinfully, “Well, he (or she) was ONLY HUMAN, after all”? Perhaps many times. It's a common saying. But do we ever wonder why this is used as an excuse for the sinful action? Is there something IN US that MAKES us sin against our will?

There are a lot of clever excuses we can use to avoid doing what's right – or even actively do what is wrong. We can say others around us “forced” us to do these things – and peer pressure can indeed be a strong factor.

We can say we couldn't avoid doing them – and if we put ourselves in situations in which sin is happening a lot, that can certainly influence us to go along with others, but it's still not a good excuse.

And we can also say that we were born so flawed that we CANNOT do anything BUT sin and rebel against God – that we are “only human.” This last excuse is perhaps the greatest lie to ever infect Christendom - and the vast majority of Christians today believe it totally.

If it’s true, just BEING among those pressuring us means that we will cave in to sin every time. And if we are around evil and sinful behavior, that would mean we'd do evil EVERY time.

But that’s not true. We CAN resist, and can work to keep ourselves away from temptation. We know this because Jesus and the Bible teaches us that we can, and must, do so, to please God.

It's important to know exactly what "sin" is in the Bible. John said he wrote a letter so that people "will not sin" (1 John 2:1.) That's not to say that we are going to immediately stop all sinning once we are exposed to the teachings of Jesus, but early Christians clearly expected new converts to make all effort to put behind them the sins they previously did routinely. This was true of stealing, lusting, cheating others, lying, and more.

But if what's being called "sin" is something inherited from our birth, we have a problem believing this, because in the Bible, sin is an act, not a thing.

If it is a compulsion from birth, one that cannot be avoided, we would have an excellent excuse for sinning all the time. We cannot be guilty if we're being compelled to sin, unavoidably, in that way.

It's only if we proplrly view sin as a CHOICE which we can avoid, that we begin to view it as the Biblical writers, and Jesus, viewed it. And then, we can confront and defeat it.

We've been taught some theological falsehoods from the pulpit. The fact is, the Biblical first man's "original sin" doesn't attach to us.

Turns out, God told Adam's son that sin is a choice, which he can and must avoid (Gen. 4:7-8.) That he chose falsely means he earned punishment, just as God warned.

But only an individual’s ACTS of sin are punishable, and we are not liable for the sins of anyone else (Ezek. 18:19-24.) If we are sinful by nature, and yet we sin, we are NOT guilty, according to God. 

Only by our wrong choice, are we liable.

We must trust God when He told Cain - and by extension, us - that we NEED NOT SIN, and instead, must work to not sin any longer, instead, asking for God's forgiveness, which is granted freely upon repenting of our past behavior.

We are assured that God has given all people the ability to stop sinning (Deut. 30:11-14; 19) and that we have Jesus as our example that a human being need not sin, and in fact CAN obey and please God.

Jesus’ example is a model upon which we can shape our actions. We must trust Jesus when he said we must seek Godliness and that we could become Godly and complete – not by ourselves, without God or without God’s chosen example guiding us, but with God's ongoing help and with the example of Jesus always before us, leading the way.

We are called to commit our lives to obedience to God's chosen Spokesman, Jesus, the Anointed Prophet of God, and submit to humbly walk with him, relying, as he taught, on God's forgiveness, and growing into the Righteous Perfection that God knows we are capable of achieving.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Jesus' Gospel Frees Us To Do Good More Perfectly! #JesusFollowers


We are born with the Natural, God-given ability to do Good. But it is only when we encounter and follow Jesus, the man who perfectly demonstrates for us what is Good in the eyes of God, that we can know and fully understand the perfect Good we are called to do.

Jesus taught that when we follow him, we are free, indeed (John 8:38). This freedom is not a call to pursue lawlessness, and does not mean that we may be released from any future accountability to God, Who remains our Father and Creator, as well as our Judge (Ps. 96:10; Prov. 24:12; Matt. 7:2; 12:36; 16:27). Instead, the opposite is true. Learning at the feet of our Master, we quickly learn that we are called to an even greater obedience.

Jesus calls out to us to hear his teachings, to understand his life as one we should emulate, and seek out others who will follow his example, also.  This, and no other message, is properly called The Gospel.

In this Gospel, Jesus plainly teaches that if we claim to love him, we will do all that he taught us (John 14:21; 15:10) and that we will teach others to do the same. (Matt. 28:20)

When we come to know and understand the Gospel of Jesus, we are "free, indeed" - not freed from the duty to do Good, because this is the core of his teaching - but freed from an ignorance and imperfect knowledge of God's holiness, and freed to do Good more completely, the way God intends.

And what is this perfect Way Jesus beckons us to follow? It is to love God, our Creator, in gratitude with all of the strength our souls can muster, and to love our fellow human beings with every fiber of our own Being. (Matt. 22:37)

The Gospel of Jesus is a call to love more fully; a love that completes and perfects us, because when we take up his Gospel's challenge, we deny all selfishness to totally seek God's path of Righteousness. (Matt. 16:24-25)

This is what Jesus meant when he called for us to be perfect, saying for us to, "be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48.) 

This perfection does not refer to some form of physical beauty, or even flawlessly performing our daily tasks. This is shown clearly when he calls for us to forgive as God forgives, and love as God loves (Matt. 6:14-15)

The Gospel presented by Jesus, therefore, recognizes the God-given abilities of all human beings to do great Good. And the life Jesus led in perfect obedience to God (Matt. 12:36; John 8:29) gives us a template of how we, also may perfect ourselves by pursuing this perfect Way.

We begin the process of becoming morally perfect servants of God and our fellow Human beings by first recognizing and repenting of our past imperfection, and then dedicating ourselves to seeking to follow his teachings.

These teachings of Jesus alone guide us directly to the holiness God knows we are capable of demonstrating in our own lives, just as Jesus perfectly demonstrated them in his.

It is in this sense that we can fully understand the otherwise difficult teaching that it is only through Jesus that we may reach our heavenly Father. (John 14:6)

In our ignorance of what is perfectly Good, we cannot have knowledge of the path God sets out for us. Jesus, by revealing to us through his life and teachings and even in his death, shows us clearly the perfect path of active obedience and self-denial we are called to follow.

Jesus and the message he left for us continues to guide us towards the Light of God's Righteousness. We are, he taught, to become lights to the world, just as he was the light of the world (Matt. 5:14; John 8:12)

Obtaining the knowledge of this message, and acting upon it, shows us God's Righteous Light, and allows us to share it with others by our deeds. God's spirit is an ever-present help to us on this journey towards holiness.

Let us become more like Jesus daily as we deny ourselves, serve others, and seek to follow his path of Righteousness, becoming the Light in the world that Jesus calls us to become.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

The Prodigal Son and God's Merciful Justice #JesusFollowers #parables

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus teaches us that we are to rejoice and be accepting of those among us who return after wronging us. The parable also teaches us that God is ready and waiting for those who return to the path of righteousness. 

In the parable, a son asks for his inheritance early and goes away, only to squander it on lustful living. He exhausts his money and returns to his father's house, seeking a job as a servant. But the father, even before he reaches his gate, runs out to greet him, and immediately forgiving him, prepares a feast for him.

In this way, Jesus teaches us to endlessly and without hesitation forgive others, in the same way God forgives those who return to him in repentance. When asked how many times we must forgive others, Jesus said "70 times 7 times."

Our repentance for our sins - just as the boy who return to his father - satisfies any Justice God requires for transgressing his moral Law, because God is not a monster, but a loving Parent who wants us to live in peace with Him and with our fellow human beings.

Mercy is given by God to those who ask for forgiveness and accept it. That's the contract; that's the "price" to be paid, just as the price the Prodigal Son paid was returning to his father in humility.

The first and most solemn declaration of God to Moses (Exodus 34:6-7) is that of "God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering - forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin." David constantly prays for the pardon of sin, for God's "mercy's sake," (Psalms 44:26) and finds forgiveness for his sins upon repentance, living thereafter with "clean hands" before God (2 Samuel 22:21.) In the story of Jonah, that God is shown to be merciful to Nineveh if only they repented from their sins (Jonah 4:1.)

But the way that Forgiveness, Justice and Mercy are understood by many Christians would force us to radically re-tell the parable, because, like Jonah, some Christians are very angry that God so easily forgives.

Seeking inspiration not from Jesus' teachings, but from angry medieval lawyers and kings, they have created, and spread, a doctrine of God's Justice that is the enemy of God's Mercy. It is a doctrine in which God CANNOT simply forgive without a blood sacrifice - someone MUST pay the "price" for a sin.

But God's mercy is NOT the enemy of God's forgiveness. Both exist in equal measure in the heart of our loving God, Who is eager to forgive us upon our repentance alone.

In their telling of the story, it must be re-written, so that the Prodigal Son's vengeful father would stop the boy at his gates and then demand that his eldest son be slaughtered in order to satisfy the sins of the youngest who sinned against his father. Only then, when the elder son's blood was spilled, would the payment be accepted.

This may have been a perfectly reasonable way to achieve justice in the ancient world, but if we put our belief solely in Jesus' teachings, and not in other mens', we know that this is not how God shows Mercy OR Justice.  While we may decide that some people do not deserve God's mercy, and must first "pay a price" for falling short of His high standards, God does not condemn based on our whims or theories about who is "in" and who is "out" of his loving embrace, either now or eternally.

"I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," God tells Moses. "And I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." (Exodus 33:19)

In the parable, even when the son "was yet a great way off," the father ran to meet him, and "fell upon his neck and kissed him" (Luke 15:20.) When Jesus calls us to forgive others as God has forgiven us, does that mean we have a duty to exact a blood payment from those whom WE wish to forgive? The opposite is true. We must forgive 70x7 times, joyfully and without hesitation.

God cannot be held to our human standards of how Justice and Mercy should work. And we should be extremely grateful for that.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

A Call to Service and Costly Grace [#JesusFollowers]

The great pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who gave his life in a Nazi concentration camp, preached bravely against the notion of "cheap grace," saying that "When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die."

Bonhoeffer defines Cheap Grace in his work, "The Cost of Discipleship" thusly: 

"Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ…. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has."
In truth, Grace is indeed a gift from God, but it requires not only the recognition that it IS a gift, but also obedience to the Giver, if we accept it from Him.

Shockingly, Bonhoeffer was one of very few in the past century to speak this truth.

Jesus, God's chosen spokesman and Prophet, sent by Him to proclaim a Good and Beneficial Message ("Gospel") made this perfectly clear in his ministry, but we fail to heed his message.

We instead choose an easy path, a path that simply adores and praises his name while continuing to seek greater wealth and prosperity, when his entire ministry was dedicated to calling people to come and die.

While surely we must metaphorically "die" to our sins, Jesus said we must lose our lives (sometimes literally) in order to be saved. And Jesus calls us to deny and sacrifice ourselves, not fill ourselves with pride or focus on self-gratification.

When Jesus tells us to do this DAILY, and to pick up our crosses, and take on the yoke of his teachings (Luke 9:23) he is asking us to serve others, to do good and Righteous Works, and prepare to sacrifice our entire fortunes, if necessary, for his sake.

We must question why modern American Christendom preach EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of this, because the idea that we need not give anything in return for our salvation is a myth.

Jesus said we are REQUIRED to forgive others if we expect God to forgive our shortcomings (sins.) (Matt. 6:14-15)

Jesus said we were not to simply CALL him Master, and that he would not be impressed by this, but only those who obeyed his words would be saved. (Matt. 7:21) Obedience is a WORK, assisted by God’s Spirit.

Jesus said we must seek God’s perfection and be morally perfect. (Matt. 5:48) and to seek after righteousness (Matt. 6:33.) And he made it clear that our discipleship will be measured by God by our obedience and righteous acts, done in humility and in obedience to Jesus, God’s Anointed One. (Matt. 16:27)

Jesus warned that his Followers would be hated, persecuted and even killed. This is far from the promise of ease, wealth and prosperity that today's Christendom claims he preached. (Matt. 5:11-12; John 15:18, 15:20)

And Jesus said, "Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." (Matt. 10:38) This is not merely “belief,” which is only the starting-point of Faith.

Jesus calls not for mere adoration or love or spiritual ecstasy in the midst of spouting a "Sinner's Prayer" that is supposedly "enough" to get us a ticket into heaven. This is a commitment, a call to make Good Works a Sacrament and an offering to God in return for his Grace and gifts.

Jesus thought we were up for a challenging faith like this. We must believe he was right.

Selected Scripture:

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” Luke 6:46

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me,” Luke 9:23

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matt. 11:29

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?’” Mark 8:34-36

“Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”  Matt. 10:38

“And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Mark 10:23

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33)

"Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matt. 5:11-12

“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Matt. 25:37-40

“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” Matt. 16:27

Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Costly Faith #Jesus Calls Us To Follow! #JesusFollowers


"Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:27-31)

What does Jesus mean when he says, "Counting the costs?"

Too many people are willing to believe in a God that requires nothing – no work, to time, no money, no effort, and no works of love; a religion that’s made easy, that requires less effort than is required to put a meal in a microwave.

They're more than ready to go to Heaven, as long as God carries them there without any requirement that they move their feet a single step.

But the inconvenient problem for those who believe this, and wish to continue to call themselves "Christian" or followers of Christ Jesus, is that this is not the religion Jesus preached. That’s not the path he calls us to walk. It's not the life he wishes us to lead in this life. And it doesn't even lead to eternal salvation with God, our Father.

If people really put a faith in God at the center of their lives, and believed that Jesus himself lays out this religion in his words and example, then they would find no work for God too hard, no self-denial too severe, and no offering of service in the name of God’s chosen Son, Jesus to be enough.

Jesus spoke about costly, righteous obedience so holy that it would cause people to hate us, and a Godly kingdom here on earth that requires us to act righteously, loving even our enemies. God would then reward us with Heaven, based only on our deeds, and if we repent of our sins and shortcomings,  a gracious and forgiving God will forgive us.

That’s a salvation that is not easy, lazy or cheaply obtained with our vain words and lengthy prayers (Matt. 6:7; 7:21.)

That which we obtain cheaply, we esteem lightly. A gift freely given, a gift unwrapped and unused, is a worthless gift, regardless of the cost. Teachings that are unused, and go unapplied, are exactly the same - useless.

Jesus never said that salvation would come without cost. He never said it would require no effort, or that it cannot or must not be earned. In fact, he said the opposite. Repeatedly.

His parables, including this one about the costs involved in building a tower, all point to a costly faith – a faith that requires us to give all we have to serving God by loving and serving both Him and our fellow human beings.

If faith costs nothing, and salvation can be achieved without effort, what "costs" must we count?

If effort and self-sacrifice is not required of us by God, then of what "costs" does Jesus speak regarding the tower in this parable?

If the wide and easy path is the path condemned by Jesus, why do so many seek it?

Those who don't plan, or don't count the costs, or don’t believe there ARE costs in achieving eternal salvation deserve to be mocked, just as those who would build a tower without considering the costs would deserve to be mocked, says Jesus.

And those who don’t consider ALL they have to be on the line when following Jesus should reconsider calling themselves by his name. We must be willing to share all, give all, and do all in order to follow the Paths of Righteousness and, ultimately, eternal Salvation Jesus calls us to follow.

"Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." (Luke 12:48.) Does this sound like the words of someone advocating and approving an easy, lazy faith, to be rewarded by God with a cheaply obtained eternal life?

God said at Jesus' baptism, when He adopted Jesus as his anointed Son and appointed him as our Example and Savior, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him." (Matt. 17:15.) We should, then, listen to and believe Jesus’s words, both here and elsewhere, when he says we must obey God's commands and follow his own example, doing all things he has done in obedience to our Creator.

God chose this perfectly obedient human being to be our example in all things. We therefore must make every effort to humbly and honorably seek to follow Jesus in obedience to his life's pattern, which pleased God so much.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

#Jesus Says: Use Your God-Given Gifts #JesusFollowers


With his teachings, #Jesus spoke about the great, powerful gifts given to human beings by God, and how we are to use them ACTIVELY to do Good for others.

Jesus, in his parables and sayings, explains that to us much has been given. Much, also, is required of us in return. By this way, we become the mature and perfect Beings that God wishes us to become.

His Parable of the Talents shows this most clearly. We are given gifts by God and are called to use them. Putting them in the ground, or keeping them unused, isn't profitable to the Kingdom of God, nor does it grow our spirits.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that we have both the ability and duty to act to serve and love others, even strangers.

Jesus says that we, as young children, are pure in spirit, able to love the way God wishes us to love as adults (Matt 19:14)

Jesus called us to bring forth good treasure from our hearts and turn it into Good Works in the world (Matt. 12:35.) God is the Author of our first measure of Goodness in our hearts. He calls on us to nurture and replenish it daily.

Jesus says that we may seek the spiritual completion (perfection) of God (Matt. 5:48), that we may forgive as God forgives, and that we may be as merciful as our Father in Heaven is merciful (Luke 6:36)

Knowing all this, we can't call Jesus our lord ("master") and ignore what he commands us to do. He has made it clear that God has equipped us to do Good Works, and calls us to go serve others to the best of our natural, God-given abilities.

Giving of ourselves is not a zero-sum game. Serving others, as Jesus calls us to do, doesn't empty us, it fills us, with joy.

Helping others brings us closer to God and to emulating the example God gave us, Jesus, whom He anointed and chose at his Baptism for that purpose. 

We are likewise chosen and sent out to act, daily building up God's spiritual Kingdom.

Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30.) That’s complete and total love that is demonstrated in our active Good Works, not just lip service or weak emotionalism that fades by Sunday afternoon when the churches are empty again.

Jesus and our Heavenly Father, God, have become for many mere SYMBOLS - psychological crutches on which we throw all our work and give THEM our moral tasks. Millions drive to churches to chant and praise Jesus' name and "finished work", all the while, averting their eyes as they pass the homeless, the sick, the discouraged, the grieving widow, the hungry, and the ill-clothed living among them. And we wonder why most people under 30 view traditional Christians as hypocrites!

"Do less" or "do nothing" are easy to sell to today's pew-dwellers, especially Americans. Jesus, by contrast, said we are capable of doing Great things, and called us to go do them. Jesus Followers who hear his words and obey them will seek to actively serve others, using their God-given gifts.

It is clear from the teachings of Jesus that we were created for a purpose: to do more - to do ALL WE CAN - to serve and love one another. This is the reason why we were saved by Jesus from the ignorance of our true Nature, in order to be the beings that God created us to be.

To deny that Jesus taught a Gospel of Good Works and active service is to deny his Gospel entirely. Doing good on behalf of others stands at the very core of the Gospel Jesus preached.

Our Nature isn't that of creatures so damaged that we cannot turn our face to God and repent of past misdeeds or weaknesses. 

Our Nature is one of Beings who were created with Free Will, able to know and understand our true mission, outlined clearly in the words and demonstrated perfectly in the life of one of us: Jesus. He says this is the way of God. Why would we second guess him?

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Excuses For Not Doing Good Answered #JesusFollowers

The duty of doing good to others, everyone will admit in the abstract; but it is not as uniformly performed as it ought to be, even by professing "christians." There are many discouragements in the way of beneficence, which make some well-disposed people useless members of society, and which partially paralyze the efforts of those who wish and strive to do good. 

Το consider and, if possible, to remove a few of these discouragements, and thus to cherish in readers a spirit of active and cheerful benevolence, will be my object in the following essay.

1. The benevolence of many is plagued by doubts as to the expediency of most of the common forms of charity. All will agree that good ought to be done; but hardly any two people agree as to the best way of doing it. One says,  "Individual effort is worse than useless. The principle of association lies at the foundation of all effective charity. You must do good with others or you can do nothing." 

Another says, "Don't trust the judgment of large groups. The funds of benevolent societies are always either squandered or misspent. If you want to do good, seek out your own objects; and do it yourself.' In the same way,  if you attempt a choice between the numerous benevolent projects, you may find objections to all of them. Would you aid in the general diffusion of knowledge? 

Would you give your money or goods to feed the poor? They may spend your gifts, and be made more wretched, not more comfortable, by your charity. 

Thus many people argue about the numerous ways of doing good; and at last, bewildered in the vain search after some form of beneficence, are ready to cry with the Psalmist: who will show us any good? Who will teach us how we may gratify our benevolent impulses to some undoubtedly good purpose."

This is difficult, but it ought not to discourage anyone from attempting to do good.

To every such enterprise there may be objections. If you can weigh the arguments for and against any particular charity, and determine to your own satisfaction that it will not do much good and is attended with little injury, it may be your duty not to help it, however strongly you are urged so to do. 

And if, among all the ways for doing good, you find none with which you can agree, stand apart from all of them. But remember, your objection to their ways is no excuse for  neglecting the duty; and there are still ways open for you, alone, to be useful. 

And as long as so wide a field of charity is open to you, the fact that many of the ways in which others attempt to do good are manifestly faulty is no reason why you should not be active in doing good.

2. Another discouraging thing that prevents many people from engaging in works of active usefulness is the feeling that they can do only a little. "If," they say, "we had the capacities and means that others have, we would gladly devote ourselves to ddoing good; but we are able at best to do very little."

When you offer this excuse, what do you mean by "little?" In the material and the spiritual world, things are great or small only by comparison; and the way that any particular object appears small in comparison with others is far from making it worthless. 

A lighthouse shines over a few miles of the ocean, and now and then saves a vessel from shipwreck, does just a little good when we compare it with the pole star, which guided those who first launched a boat upon the waves, and still shines over the whole Northern hemisphere. But would we, for this reason, demolish all lighthouses? 

And that same star, how insignificant its twinkling, how trivial its use, when we compare it with the sun at noon, enlightening every home, cheering our hearts, guiding the ways of all the earth! 

But would you for this reason blot out the pole-star from the heavens? "No," you would say, 'let the lesser lights shine, for they are useful to us, though the greater be infinitely more so." And the same reasoning holds in the spiritual world. 

You excuse yourselves from doing what you can for the good of your brethren, on the ground that you can do but little. On the same ground, all the benefactors of humanity in past times might have excused themselves from doing the good that they have done

In the same way, all the benefactors of humanity in past times might have excused themselves from doing the good.

You say in despair: how little good can we do compared with what one wealthy person has done!" but the good that each of us can do, compared with what one has done, is infinitely greater than what that one person has done, when compared with the blessings derived from Jesus of Nazareth, the friend, not of a single class of people on a single continent, but of all people, everywhere. 

But one who does good for others, does it in the sight and at the command of God. and with Him a person is accepted, not according to the reputed greatness or littleness of what they do, but according to their ability.

But to look at the subject in a merely human point of view. You say, reader, that you can do only a little good. If there are a million people who can do as much good as you can, and no more, multiply the little that you can do by a million, and will that still be a little? 

No, it will be immense. But each of these million people may draw back on the same excuse you do, and thus an immense amount of good remain undone. 

But if you, if each one of these million people would say: 'I can only do only a little, but that little, for God's sake, I will do,' what a vast difference it will make in the amount of good done in the world! It is thus, by numerous small sums, that great aggregates are produced; and these small sums are needed to make the sum total of good great. 

There are only a few that can do much good; the greater part of the good done in the world is done by those who act alone, but do little.

You excuse yourselves from doing what you can for the good for others, on the ground that you can do but little. In the same way, all the benefactors of humanity of the past might have excused themselves from doing the good that they've done.

Look around you, among those who are the most actively useful, to whom the anxious apply for counsel, the needful for aid, the widow and the fatherless for protection, the sick and dying for care, for sympathy, for christian instruction. 

Will you not find among the foremost of these sons and daughters of charity some who, though rich in faith, are poor as to this world's goods, humble in rank, of limited information, of feeble mental powers? 

Cultivate a fervent spirit of brotherly love, and, though the means of your charity may appear small, you may yet be eminently useful.

Again, you say that you can do but little good. When you say so, do you speak of good appertaining to the body or the soul?

The good that can be done to the frail, perishable body is at best but little. Not so with that which is done to the immortal spirit. Not so with religious charity. That acts upon eternity; and must therefore, when it confers any good, confer a great good. 

Finally, can you do only a little good? If so, God requires only little of you. Do that little, and your reward shall be great.

3. Another discouragement to benevolent effort and especially to religious charity is found in the way that the results of individual beneficence can't be traced. 

Your little stream flows into the great ocean of charity, mingles with its waters, and you cannot follow its current any farther, or see what end it reaches and what good it does.

But here the way of duty is very plain. You are commanded to do good, and God has promised a blessing upon your efforts. No matter whether you see the blessing or not.

Adapted from EXCUSES FOR THE NEGLECT OF BENEVOLENT EFFORTS CONSIDERED. (1834) By Rev. Andrew P. Peabody (1811-1893)

Sunday, August 27, 2023

The Beatitudes: Jesus' Doctrine of Happiness #JesusFollowers

Matt. 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-23

The Beatitudes contain Jesus Christ's doctrine of happiness. A strange doctrine it must sound to worldly ears! It seems a series of paradoxes, or even contradictions, amounting together to a declaration that the miserable are the happy. Nowhere does the boldness of the preacher of Galilee appear more conspicuously than in the opening sentences of the Sermon on the Mount.

This man has faith in the power of his Gospel to cope with every evil. He speaks as one who has Good News for all classes of men, and for all possible conditions. There is no human experience which Jesus regards with despair, and his doctrine is as original as it is bold. 

It is not to be confounded with that of any philosophical school. It is not Stoicism. The Stoic preached submission to misery as inevitable, and offered to his disciples the peace of despair. Jesus looks on evil as something that can be transmuted into good, and all sufferers have a hope, a reward, an outlook. It is not mere optimism, however. The optimist denies evil or explain It away, and thinks to cure human misery by fine praises. 

Jesus admits the evil that is in the world, And speak of it in plain terms; only, unlike the pessimist, he declines to regard it as final and unsurmountable. 

The kind of happiness that Jesus offers is obviously something different. Its both novel and peculiar. When he says blessed are the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, he means either that they are blessed In spite of their misery or that they are blessed through their misery. In either case, the blessedness must be something different from what the world usually counts as happiness, something in the soul. Jesus invites us to reach felicity by the method of inwardness, Representing it as within the reach of all, just because that is the way to it.

These sayings on happiness prefixed to the Sermon on the Mount might have formed a part of the sermon in the synagogue of Nazareth on the Acceptable Year of the Lord. It is only once written in the gospel narrative, but they might have been spoken by him many times. They would have served to show the nature of his message. They might have been, and probably were, themes sounded by Jesus many times in his ministry. 

They are certainly among the most characteristic utterances of the new era of Hope. It has been remarked of the Sermon on the Mount that it seems to be a mixture of two distinct sorts of doctrine, one specially suited for the ears of disciples, and the other such as would more suitably be addressed to the multitude. 

In the judgment of critics, the former kind of doctrine predominates, so that the Sermon may be represented as a disciple-discourse with popular elements, interspersed.

There is a certain amount of truth in this view, and the mixture, discernible throughout, is traceable at the commencement. Some of the Beatitudes are for all of humanity, while some are spoken specifically for the benefit of the disciples. 

One set seems specifically for the woes of humanity at large, another brings consolation for the tribulations of Believers. The distinction is most apparent in Luke's version of the Sermon. There, three Beatitudes are spoken to the hungry, the poor, those that weep; then follows one comprehensive Beatitude for the faithful servants of the Kingdom suffering for truth and righteousness. 

It was necessary that there should be Beatattudes for both. No Gospel is complete, which has no consolations for both ordinary suffering mortals and those saints who were already battling moral evil.

In Luke's version of the discourse, they seem to refer to literal poverty, hunger, and sorrow. Christ Jesus appears there, saying, "Blessed are you poor;” “Blessed are you that hunger now;” “Blessed are you who weep now.” 

In Matthew's version, the terms employed to describe the classes addressed in the two first sentences have attached to them qualifying  phrases which make the characteristics spiritual, and limit the scope of the sayings, turning them in fact into special Beatitudes pertaining to the children of the Kingdom.

If the question is asked: which of the two forms is the more original? Our judgment inclines to that of Luke. Speaking generally, the more pregnant, kernel-like form of any saying of  Jesus is always the more likely to have been likely to have been that actually used by Him. The briefer, less developed form is most in keeping with the striking originality of His teaching. 

Jesus, as befits the Sage, loved short, suggestive sentences,  revealing much, hiding much, arresting the attention of the memory, provoking thought, demanding explanation.

(Adapted from the book "Galilean Gospel" by Dr. Aleander Balmain Bruce, 1882)

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Repentance Required By Jesus #JesusFollowers

Humanity in general were grossly corrupted both with respect to their understandings, their affections and actions, when our Lord undertook to reform them, and this rendered each one personally displeasing to his maker, as each one was become the proper object of divine dislike. 

Everyone who had behaved grossly unworthy of, and unsuitable to, his character, and who had thereby disappointed the very end of his creation; did by this means render himself personally displeasing to his maker, and the proper object of his resentment. 

For as we are free beings who have the direction of our own actions, and as we are endowed with a discerning and reasoning faculty which when carefully used and attended to would in the general rightly direct our understanding, our affections and actions, so this puts it into everyone's power, and leaves it to our choice to behave well, or ill; to render ourselves personally pleasing, or displeasing to God; and consequently to be the proper object of divine favor, or resentment. 

If then, our Lord Jesus Christ would be a savior to humanity he must reform them, and must rightly direct their minds and lives; because there was no other possible way in which he could render them personally pleasing to God, and consequently no other possible way in which he could be a favor to them. 

If he had lived to the age of Methuselah, and had behaved all that time in the best and most perfect manner possible, and if he had died a death a thousand times more painful and shameful than what he did, this might have rendered him in his own person so much the more pleasing and acceptable to his Father, as he hereby might become so much more the proper object of divine regard; but this could not possibly render any other person more or less pleasing to God, because no other person could  be Jesus.

Since the reformation of the world, and rightly directing and governing the minds and lives of human beings, was the only possible way in which Christ Jesus could be a benefit to them: so this was the only way in which he proposed to be their benefit, and this was the only method he pursued in order to obtain that goal. 

He tells sinners plainly that unless they repent they will perish; and that the true and only way to life eternal is to keep the commandments; and that if they do this they shall live; and the like. 

This is the true gospel of Jesus Christ. As to saving humanity by the imputation of his own righteousness, or the meritorious sufferings, or the prevailing intercession of Christ alone, apart from our repentance, these are doctrines which Jesus himself never taught, and are what Jesus never pretended to save us by; but were methods of salvation set up by men who have called themselveshby his name. And these methods of saving humanity, as they are of human invention, and are no part of the gospel of Christ Jesus; so they naturally and manifestly tend to subvert it.

(Adapted from the writings of Thomas Chubb)

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Would #Jesus Have Something To Say About Social Media? #JesusFollowers


It's obvious that Jesus lived long before the advent of social media, or even computers, but is there anything we can learn from him regarding how to deal with these wonders of our own era? 

If Jesus is our teacher, guide, and Master, we can find many useful lessons for our lives today in his teaching and example.

Social media can be, and is, a great benefit. We stay connected with family members, friends and co-workers, often years after they're no longer living near to us; we keep up with current events in our communities, our nation, and around the world, and we meet and interact with people from around the world whom we would never have met without social media.

But social media also has a well-known destructive side. 

We can become addicted to staring at laptop and smartphone screens. We can become disconnected with the people who are ACTUALLY around us. And we can misuse this great gift in many new and harmful ways.

It's often easy to say hurtful things, safely hidden behind a screen, that we'd never say in person. 

And perhaps one of the most damaging aspects of social media use is that it can portray others' lives as perfect, which leads us to feel bad about how our own lives measure up.

Jesus spoke of the hypocrites of his day among the Pharisees, saying: "You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean." (Matt. 23:27)

Jesus therefore calls us to not bear false witness, or put on a false facade to others while on social media.

And what of the content we consume on social? It's been said of computer programming, "Garbage in, Garbage out." Many years before this saying, Jesus spoke of what we put into our hearts.

"The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." (Luke 6:45)

We are called by our Master to absorb good treasures, treasure that lasts an eternity, and ones that bear good fruit in the here and now.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matt. 6:19-21)

Our God-anointed Exemplar goes on to explain that what we SEE can put goodness or evil into our hearts:

"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your vision is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your vision is poor, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt. 6:22-23)

Jesus also calls us to serve and love our neighbors. This requires that we remain connected to the living, breathing people around us - friends, co-workers, family, neighbors, and even strangers that we encounter. 

We can remain connected and reach out to them through social media, surely, but we ought not substitute a Direct Message or text for a comforting word and a helping hand.

Jesus calls us to perform righteous acts, in humility (Matt 6:1) feeding, clothing, comforting, visiting and actively engaging others - in person. (Matt. 25:35-36)

Jesus assures us that his teachings will last forever, and said if we truly love him, we will follow him, and do what he commands us to do.

Let's take his eternal teachings 20 centuries ago to heart when we use the wonderful gifts of our 21st century lives for the creation of the Kingdom Jesus says lives within us, and must come to pass on this earth through our acts in his name!

Sunday, August 6, 2023

The Real Message of the Thief On the Cross #JesusFollowers

Two men, identified in the Book of Luke as criminals, were put to death by crucifixion on either side of Jesus on Golgotha, the place of the Skull.

In Luke 23:39-43, the story is told that, "One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

This thief's experience has long been repeated by ministers and Christian apologists as "proof" that salvation can come instantly to us, effortlessly, just for the asking, and requires no knowledge or action on our part. But a closer look at this story reveals a deeper message, more consistent with the teachings of Jesus, who should be our final authority.

The teaching of many modern preachers is that the thief received "instant salvation" because of his utterance to Jesus that he believed him to be the messiah.  But they neglect one important fact: the thief clearly knew Jesus, or at least knew about him and his ministry of the Kingdom.

This is evidenced by his statements that he knew that Jesus had "done nothing wrong," that he taught about a "kingdom" and that even his colleague had called him "the Christ," or "One who is Anointed (by God)." In this case, the Messiah, or savior.

His affirmation that Jesus was innocent and that he had been anointed by God to preach about a Kingdom, showed more than a passing knowledge of Jesus and his ministry. 

Therefore, his statements showed a knowledge of Jesus and his teaching, and that teaching had been that all will be rewarded according to their deeds. His utterance, therefore, was evidence of a previous faith in Jesus, even if it had been a recent one.

And we are called to, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 5:16)

Showing mercy to the thief was clearly in line with Jesus' teaching that "blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." The thief's comments to Jesus and his rebuke of his fellow thief were clearly acts of mercy and kindness towards Jesus, who had just forgiven those who were putting him to death, saying "Forgive them, for they know not what they do" (23:34) even as the Roman soldiers and others taunted him.

That the thief would "surely" be with Jesus "today" in paradise (a theological hornets nest, since Jesus was said in the Fourth Gospel to have ascended to Heaven two days later, on Sunday) doesn't mean the thief was "granted" eternal life with God in Heaven, based merely on his utterance on the cross. That would be assuming a fact not stated here. At most, it means he was to stand before God, and be with Jesus, in the afterlife. It certainly showed Jesus' approval, and appreciation, for the thief's comments.

Now, all this is not to say that the thief's late recognition of Jesus wasn't rewarded by God. After all, God isn't bound by our utterances, nor by our sense of Justice or punishment As James (2:13) notes, "Mercy triumphs over justice." Christians today tend to put God in a box, saying that he "cannot" forgive or grant mercy to whomever He wishes. He surely can. 

We must not say that He "may not" grant mercy, any more than we may say that He MUST forgive and grant us eternal salvation, simply because of a single utterance of Faith about Jesus, like the one the thief made from the cross.

It also follows that we cannot take Jesus' mercy here on this one man as a license to extrapolate man-made doctrine and dogmas. Specifically, we may not use this story to imply that works and good deeds are not required from by God, when Jesus and the entire Hebrew Scriptures before him taught otherwise. Jesus said, "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required." (Luke 12:48)

And when he was asked directly how one obtained eternal life (Mark 10:17-22) he replied by reciting the (Ten) Commandments, and urged him to observe (do) them. Elsewhere hevgave his own, saying that he believed we are required by God to follow.

Jesus calls us to a life of joyful service done lovingly for our neighbors, so that God's Heavenly Kingdom may be made a reality here on earth each day by the light of our righteous  actions.

The moment we are saved by this knowledge, and learn of Jesus' example and teachings, we are then called by him to seek to live the life he demonstrated for us and become the whole and complete human beings God wishes us to become. THAT is the clear message Jesus left for us.