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 tGod, 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 known, 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)